This 1935 novel about the elevation of a populist con-artist with fascistic tendencies to the highest office in the land is just the sort of escapist reading to really take your mind off your troubles these days.
In all seriousness, depending on your perspective this is either the worst or the best time to cross Sinclair Lewis’s late-career polemic off your to-be-read list. The description of the fictitious Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip’s rise to power will in most respects feel all too familiar to anyone who hasn’t been living under a cave for the last eighteen months. But since living under a cave seems like kind of an upgrade at the moment, maybe Windrip will cut too close to the bone for some readers.
For me though, the bigger issue with It Can’t Happen Here is its maddeningly long-winded style and insistence on telling the story through the perspective of an “ordinary man” and his Vermont family. Doremus Jessup, the independent-minded editor of a small-town newspaper, is an unlikely hero for a novel of titanic world events, but that is the way Lewis has chosen to tell the story.
Frankly, I’m struggling to say much about It Can’t Happen Here, which surrounds fifty pages or so of incredibly prescient political insight with over three hundred pages of rather boring small-town drama and a badly-written spy drama.
Somehow, It Can’t Happen Here pulls off the rare trick of being incredibly relevant to the present and quite dated in regards to its references and attitudes.