REVIEW: This Perfect Day by Ira Levin
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Li RM35M4419 is never satisfied with his life in the perfect computer run society in which he lives.
PROS: One of the best working utopian/dystopian societies I’ve read; clever; multi-layered.
CONS: Underdeveloped characters; pacing issues.
BOTTOM LINE: This Perfect Day is a thought provoking book.
After the Unification, a computer (Uni) was set up to monitor the world, deciding what jobs people would have, who could have children, when people could travel and more. Weekly treatments keep everyone docile and happy. Except for a few incurables. People like Li RM35M4419, or Chip, as he prefers to be called.
This Perfect Day follows Chip from the time he spent with his grandfather, one of the members who created Uni, to the times he frees himself enough from his treatments to know that he actually hates the computer that has run his life since birth and decides to fight it. His inability to be content with his current situation in life causes problems for himself and those around him.
Despite following his life, Chip’s really just a narrator through the world. He never changes beyond losing and regaining his Uni induced conditioning. Through Chip’s actions and observations we learn more about this future without really learning more about him. Aside from his dissatisfaction with his life, his only individual actions are pride and jealousy, especially where his wife Lilac is concerned. Every other character remains fairly flat. Lilac especially makes some surprising decisions given previous events.
The pacing of This Perfect Day is a bit peculiar because each section jumps a number of years, forcing the reader to become reacquainted with Chip and his current circumstances. But, as each segment ramps up Chip’s rebellion, it does flow well towards the climax.
The main hallmark of a dystopian society is a lack of freedom – easily evident here. But this is the first time I’ve read a dystopian novel where, rather than be horrified by how the quality of life has gone down, due to repression (as in 1984), excess & conditioning (Brave New World), science/population concerns (The Declaration, Unwind) or fear (Battle Royale), this one flourishes. It actually sounds like a decent world. Yes, you don’t get to chose where you live or what job you hold or even if you can have kids. But no one’s hungry or homeless or without health care. Everyone has a job and is considered family. You’re expected to have sex once a week, watch a moderate amount of television and enjoy your free time without being selfish with regards to materials. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than some potential futures. It’s a world built on equality, where there’s no use for money and genetic engineering means physical differences are no longer concerns. The only dystopian novel I’ve read that comes close to this is The Giver, which had problems this world doesn’t have.
This Perfect Day is a thought provoking book.
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