About a year ago, I was browsing in a used bookstore and saw an old paperback copy of something I’d never before heard of: This Perfect Day, a dystopian novel by Ira Levin. It looked interesting enough that I paid my 85 cents and took it home.
As soon as I finished it, I started writing a blog post about it. I abandoned that post when I realized that the plot is full of so many ingenious twists, and so much of what gives the book its enduring interest, can be explained only by describing events that take place after the most surprising of those twists, that it would be impossible to review it without ruining the story.
Those who have read the novel will recognize the title of this post as the first line of a rhyme that members of the society depicted in the novel habitually recite:
Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei,
Led us to this perfect day.
Marx, Wood, Wei and Christ,
All but Wei were sacrificed.
Wood, Wei, Christ and Marx,
Gave us lovely schools and parks.
Wei, Christ, Marx and Wood,
Made us humble, made us good.
Recently two bloggers whom I read regularly both reminded me of This Perfect Day. Regular visitors to this blog know that I like to get all points of view; I’m something of a leftie myself, and to check my biases I read, among others, Peter Hitchens, who is on the right regarding matters of sex and sexuality, and Steve Sailer, who is on the right regarding race and nationality. The other day, Mr Hitchens mentioned that he had read This Perfect Day and thought that it was a much-underappreciated book. I offered a comment saying what I said above, that perhaps the reason it is underappreciated is that it is difficult to review it without giving away too many surprises, and so it hasn’t been widely enough recommended. I suspect Mr Hitchens dislikes the pseudonym “Acilius”; he doesn’t seem inclined to approve my comments, so that one has not appeared at the site. I’m Acilius on so many platforms that it would seem wrong to adopt another pseudonym, and for reasons I’ve explained elsewhere I prefer not to use my legal name. So I suppose I won’t be contributing to his combox.
Today Mr Sailer posted an item about a New York Times story in which was hidden an implicit retraction of some reporting that had previously appeared in the Times; his remarks about it included this sentence:
That’s one of the joys of holding the Megaphone: You can redefine your behavior as Not Fake News in that you gave extremely curious and industrious readers a path to the truth without troubling the majority who like their News Fake.
Now, I am about to give away some of the very cleverest plot twists in This Perfect Day, but so as to ruin the story for as few people as possible, I will put it after the jump.
Throughout his life, the hero of This Perfect Day keeps noticing subtle indications that the social world in which he lives is not what it is generally taken to be. There are dark truths hidden from the populace. He puts clues together, and learns enough, first, to make contact with a secret underground, then to escape to an island the existence of which is an even greater secret, and finally to discover the greatest secrets of all. As he penetrates ever deeper into the hidden structure of society, he begins to wonder about the clues and opportunities that have been available to him. It has been very difficult to for him, acting essentially alone, to identify and interpret the clues, yet there has always been a clue to be found, always a next step to take. How can that be?
Once he reaches the center of power, the hero learns the reason. The clues actually are a puzzle, set by the secret ruling elite of society. They make up a grand civil service exam. Those who solve the puzzle and make their way to the home of the secret elite with the intention of destroying them are greeted with a standing ovation and are initiated as new members of that elite.
Reading Mr Sailer’s post, therefore, I thought of This Perfect Day. So I tweeted:
Mr Sailer immediately clicked “Like” on that tweet, which was gratifying in view of Mr Hitchens’ refusal to publish my comment.