It Can’t Happen Here – Sinclair Lewis – Audible Book Review by Pat V.
A brash demagogue, promising economic and social reform while promoting a return to patriotism and a curb on non-Aryan elements in society is elected President of the United States. Sounds familiar? No, this is not the first futuristic novel set in a post President Trump era. Sinclair Lewis’s satirical tale was written in 1935 when the rising threat of fascism in Europe was awakening echoes in the USA but the fact that Audible has chosen to republish it in the run-up to the current presidential election can be no coincidence.
In the swings and roundabouts of literary fashion, Lewis seems to have disappeared from view in recent years but he is a formidable writer and had a central role in American literature throughout the 20th century. He was the first American to receive the Nobel Prize For Literature and many of his books – Main Street, Dodsworth, Arrowsmith and Elmer Gantry (which won 3 Oscars) – were turned into successful Hollywood movies.
“It Can’t Happen Here” was due to be made into a film in 1936, but Will Hays who was in charge of censorship for the movie studios, used all his power and prevented the film from being made. Hays felt that a film of this novel would be seen as an attack on the Republican party. It became a television movie in 1968 under the title of Shadows in the Land and in 1982 director, Kenneth Johnson adapted the story and presented the script to NBC who rejected the initial version, claiming it was too cerebral for the average American viewer. To make the script more marketable, the American fascists were re-cast as man-eating extraterrestrials and it became the basis for the successful miniseries, V.
There is not a single extraterrestrial in this reading by Grover Gardner for Audible! What interests Lewis is rather to show how thin the veneer of our civilised democratic system really is and how power, placed in the wrong hands, has a corrosive effect on all aspects of society. However, a subject that might be dull and stolid in the hands of a different writer, is always engaging in Lewis’s and the political and philosophical passages in the novel are treated with a light touch and wry humour.
The central character in the book is Doremus Jessup, a newspaperman, who is initially amused (and later bemused) by the rise to power of Senator Buzz Windrip, a charismatic but corrupt politician. When Windrip is elected President and gradually imposes a totalitarian regime, Jessup realises that he can no longer stand on the sideline and must become involved in active opposition to the new regime.
Grover Gardner’s reading gives a distinctive voice to each of his characters, capturing perfectly the bombastic Windrip and charting the change in Jessup from cynicism to full engagement. His narration of the police interrogations under the direction of Shad Ledue, a former assistant of Jessup’s, are chilling and disturbing. Lewis’s novel, though certainly not an action story, is always interesting and engaging and this version could be listened to, with pleasure, a second and third time.
It is available from audible.co.uk and lasts 14h 28mins.