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essays

Mar 1, 1975

Levin, “This Perfect Day”

“The conception of This Perfect Day is brilliant, the execution flawless, and there is a continuing intelligence presiding over the whole work.”

Occasionally, one comes across a book which, for one special personal reason or another, one would very much wish to have written. For me, such works would include Isaiah Berlin’s Historical 1nevitability and C.S. Lewis’ profound Christian-libertarian novel, That Hideous Strength. Another is Ira Levin’s beautiful book, under belated review here. This Perfect Day has been something of an underground libertarian sensation for a while now, its fame spread by word of mouth by those who, like myself, have enjoyed it immensely, to those whom they would like to see share in their pleasure. It truly deserves to be read by everyone, especially by any libertarian who may be looking for an exciting and marvelously crafted novel and what the British reviewers call “a really good read.”

This is a “dystopian” (or negative utopian) novel, a new form for Levin, but one in which he has instantly become a master: in my view, This Perfect Day outshines Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s great 1984 in a number of ways. First of all, in the greater political and cultural perspicacity: it is Levin’s projected future society that we have to fear and not Orwell’s Stalinist-infected nightmare or Huxley’s confused amalgamation of statism and the hedonistic consumer society. Into the world of This Perfect Day, Levin has woven with a fine hand the likely extrapolations of the prevailing strands in the contemporary world: total collectivism, regimented and mechanized through the misuse of computers, chemicotherapy, and other scientific advances; the ideology of “love” (in the Erich Fromm-John Lennon sense), used to crush all individuality and individual rights; a world-state run by a self-appointed elite, self-defined as “benevolent,” where Marxist and Christian opponents of the free society no longer hold mere brotherly dialogues, but have coalesced their creeds; and a vision of the role of “mental health” specialists that could have come from Thomas Szasz.

Secondly, Levin’s is superior to the two earlier works, in my opinion, in all the elements of novel-building: in plot, stylistic virtuosity, and characterization. In regard to this last trait, he has a lovely way of being fair to characters who are not ultimately right (like Julia, the uptight Christian businesswoman), or who are downright villains (like Wei, a Chou En-lai figure—that is to say, a civilized and witty swine—superbly drawn). As for the hero, Chip, let me just say that he is a full human being, a brave Adam, easy to love, and the exhilarating quality of his heroism is reminiscent of no one in contemporary fiction (if one were to choose) so much as McMurphy in Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (except that Chip wins). One would like to have known Chip.

The conception of This Perfect Day is brilliant, the execution flawless, and there is a continuing intelligence presiding over the whole work; besides, as anyone who has read Levin’s previous books—for instance, Rosemary’s Baby or A Kiss Before Dying—can testify, he really knows how to tell a story. If you want to do yourself a favor, read This Perfect Day. Reviewed by Ralph Raico / Fiction (320 pages) / LR Price $1.50