Ira Levin’s Perfect Day

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I just read on Sarah Weinman's site that Ira Levin has died. Ira Levin was the author of Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, two bestselling novels I enjoyed greatly when I was a kid in the 70's reading under the influence of my Grandma, my mom and my sister. These books were both made into excellent movies, of course (Roman Polanksi's chic spin on Rosemary's Baby was especially good) but the books were fun to read too. Ira Levin specialized in conspiracy theories: Rosemary's Baby presented a Satanic conspiracy and Stepford Wives a male chauvinist conspiracy. But Ira Levin wrote another conspiracy novel, This Perfect Day, which I also read as a teenager and liked perhaps even better than the other two.

Why did teenage me read this strange and even then little-known book, which depicts a rebel named Li RM35M4419 (nickname: Chip) who takes on a totalitarian government managed by a giant computer named UniComp? I guess I had a lot of time on my hands, but this often paid off, and This Perfect Day was a very exciting and rewarding read. I don't want to give away the core secret conspiracy that is revealed during the course of This Perfect Day, but perhaps I can suggest that some readers may want to honor this author's death not by rereading the familiar bestsellers but by finding copies of this one instead. You can read the Wikipedia page above if you don't mind a spoiler (no, UniComp is not gay) and I'll just say that the book does come up with a good payoff and stands up to 1984, Animal Farm, Slapstick, Brave New World and other totalitarian fables. Like these novels, it touches upon fascism, Stalinism and Maoism, but Ira Levin has more fun with these concepts than any of the others (except maybe Slapstick, since nobody ever had more fun with a concept than Kurt Vonnegut).

The book also offers a highly original message that has something to do with co-optation of the underground. Dana Spiotto's recent Eat The Document tells a similar story in a very different way.

I'll update this page with more links about Ira Levin as I find them. Farewell to a highly original author, Ira Levin of New York City, 78 years old.

5 Responses to "Ira Levin’s Perfect Day"

by danjazz on

Ira Levin's booksI'm sorry to learn of Levin's death. I can't share your enthusiasm for his books, however. I read them as well, and recall being struck his bad plotting and similar gimmicks. In both Rosemary and Stepford, a young husband joins a private organization that plots disaster for his wife. Not only are the central plot devices too similar, but crucial action happens off-stage, which is a chickenshit cop-out not worthy of a professional writer. Perfect Day so blatantly rips off the plots of both 1984 and Brave New World that I found myself fantasizing about Levin writing with both those books open beside him. To compare Day with these major novels is like comparing Jaws with Moby Dick. (Jaws also rips off the ending of Moby Dick almost word-for-word.)Levin's books do have some nice ideas, but they become tricks when they're plugged into such bad plotting. Polanski's movie was great; he could film the phone book and I'd go see it.Didn't Levin also write a book about a bunch of Hitler clones?

by brooklyn on

Harsh, Dan! But, of course, to each his own.Yes, he did write "Boys From Brazil", yet another conspiracy story (this time a neo-Nazi theme). I don't agree that "1984" and "Brave New World" stand above "This Perfect Day". None of these books are known for their literary qualities -- they are "concept books", and I think the concept of "This Perfect Day" offers some ironic twists that make it an original work in this category.And, what's wrong with evoking "Moby Dick" at the end of "Jaws"? I would have done the same thing if I were Peter Benchley.Thanks for your thoughts, though ...

by danjazz on

Hey, I like Polanski!

by SteelyDignan on

Just found this blog and was excited, then heard Ira Levin died and it brought me back down. I've read all of his novels including the above mentioned and enjoyed them all. In some ways, the Moby Dick to Jaws analogy seems reasonable. No one will ever confuse Ira Levin for high literary artistry, but his books were usually tightly plotted and highly entertaining. Then again, I'm one of the 3 people who thought Son of Rosemary wasn't a complete debacle.

by Lirm35m on

All I have to say to danjazz is if 'This Perfect Day 'was so poorly plotted, why did we all eat it up with a spoon when the Matrix used Levin's big reveal/conspiracy theory as the central piece of the Zion origin story in the Matrix? This Perfect Day is definitely among the countless other 'source material' ripped off by that 'verse :-)