Review: This Perfect Day by Ira Levin

Considered one of the great dystopian novels-alongside Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World-Ira Levin’s frightening glimpse into the future continues to fascinate readers even forty years after publication.

The story is set in a seemingly perfect global society. Uniformity is the defining feature; there is only one language and all ethnic groups have been eugenically merged into one race called “The Family.” The world is ruled by a central computer called UniComp that has been programmed to keep every single human on the surface of the earth in check. People are continually drugged by means of regular injections so that they will remain satisfied and cooperative. They are told where to live, when to eat, whom to marry, when to reproduce. Even the basic facts of nature are subject to the UniComp’s will-men do not grow facial hair, women do not develop breasts, and it only rains at night.

With a vision as frightening as any in the history of the science fiction genre, This Perfect Day is one of Ira Levin’s most haunting novels.

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Review

Several years ago I watched the movie adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby, which I loved, and knew it had been adapted from the book of the same name by author Ira Levin. From then on it was a goal of mine to read something written by Ira Levin. It wasn’t until I came across This Perfect Day, being a dystopian tale, when I finally felt I had found the perfect novel to start with. Unfortunately that feeling was short lived.

This Perfect Day is more of a throwback to classic dystopian, which makes sense seeing as it was first published in the 1970′s. After reading numerous contemporary-style dystopians, several having an a-typical YA love story attached, I found it refreshing to go back to the more classic negative utopia feel.

There are several facets to the story that contribute to making a great negative utopia as a whole. The society, (a.k.a The Family) has been eugenically bred and genetically altered, they’re dosed into placation on a regular basis, their education and experiences are all controlled, their whole lives are boiled down to a schedule, and even personalisation of names has been stamped out and replaced with numbers. A complete level of control and manipulation has been reached in what you would expect from an intense, thoughtful, and creepy dystopia.

At times I was disconcerted, it was difficult not to be, but I found I could not become engrossed with the story. I wanted to, but it reached a point where I was reading only to finish and not to discover how events unravelled. I attribute this for the most part to not feeling much for the characters. We follow the story of Chip, a character who doesn’t necessarily fly in the face of The Family, and whom did not elicit any sort of sympathy from me. It was actually his grandfather, the man who gave Chip and the rest of his family new names, whom I was the fondest of. I felt he was the character who could get a reader to feel by creating the passion one needs in order to keep interested. Unfortunately his presence was short lived.

After that it was a bit ho hum (spoilers abound, avert your eyes dear reader) and then Chip goes and does something to really turn me off his character. Members of The Family are more docile and less sexually active. Naturally there is going to be quite a change, if not a struggle, when their doses are lowered and they go off of them completely. It’s a plausible scenario that rape will come up at some point, particularly when sex is expected at a specific time and day. It’s still off-putting when the protagonist rapes the girl he is travelling with, while she’s protesting and is driven to biting a hole in his hand, and he says sorry continuously. That boy knows he is doing the wrong thing. The most annoying part of the scene thought? She basically tells him it was ok because she wasn’t thinking right and accepts his feeble apology! That was the point I truly lost interest in the characters. I developed a disinterest in Chip and disdain towards the girl he raped.

(End of spoiler). From then on what really kept me reading was the world building. I felt there was too much summarising and the direction was changing tack too often, but the world building was fantastic. I was given the impression of The Chrysalids and Brave New World combined, with something else entirely. I think Levin was able to produce sterilisation and uniformity with a few simple modifications to how society acts, while creating a deeper meaning to all of it. I believe This Perfect Day would have been a great narrative when it was published and may still be so with first time readers of classic dystopia.

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