So the plug for this book on a recent edition says “The book that foreshadowed Trump’s appeal” or some nonsense like that. A novel can’t foreshadow reality, but it can prefigure it. Sinclair Lewis knows Americans really well, and while there’s a lot here that will look like mind-reading, is really just good observation. Like Stephen King, like plenty of other, Lewis knows what makes Americans work, and this book, unfortunately feels prescient right now.
The book itself describes the rise of a particular American brand of fascism, one draped in nationalism, good cheer, and Christianity. One that isn’t all that ideological, so much as purely authoritarian, and one that is as shallow as it comes. The novel also indicates that the form of the authoritarian leader is a symptom of systemic failures, not the specifics of a particular voice. This proved true in Germany, Spain, and Italy in the decade after this novel was produced, and in many countries in the 60s and 70s as well.
The book has a “plot” in a way, but it’s not a plot novel so much as a novel of ideas and scattered history of these ideas playing out. So to that point, it’s not all that interesting of a story. It’s a setup of a scenario and then we get to see it play out. That’s about it. It’s perfectly adequately written, but thoroughly considered. He has better novel out there, but none that feel quite as of the moment. I will say that this novel seems to get new readership every time we have a new Republican president, so take that as a little salt.