I just spent two days in January reading Seven Days in May, a book published in 1962 about an attempt to organize a military coup overthrowing the President of the United States.
I first read the book many years ago as a middle-schooler. I thought it was very intriguing and exciting at that time (second only to Fail Safe, a book about a nuclear crisis between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War.)
When I ran across the book recently, I eagerly reread it to discover my reaction after so many years.
The book mentions various Northern Virginia localities. Arlington Boulevard, Fort Myers, Falls Church, Route 7, Leesburg. I know these places like the back of my hand (living just two blocks off Arlington Boulevard several miles beyond Falls Church.) But how weird to think that the first time I read it I was a mere eighth grader in North Carolina and had no idea I would grow up to live in the environs where this story unfolds.
So I’ve changed.
The world has also changed.
In the book, the president’s approval rating falls to 29%, a figure that was viewed with horror. Since the book came out, four presidents have tied or beat that figure: Nixon, 24%; Carter, 28%; G.H.W. Bush, 29%; and G.W. Bush, 25%. There have been no military coups, but one president resigned (Nixon) and another was impeached (Clinton.) What was once extraordinary has become commonplace.
And I’m reminded of the FOX television drama, 24, starring Kiefer Sutherland. Each season the entire series takes place in one twenty-four hour period, and the show is memorable in the number of terrorist attacks, use of torture, amount of gunfire, and use of nuclear weaponry that it depicts. It gives new meaning to the phrase “action-packed.” On the contrary, the book I just finished took a WHOLE WEEK to play itself out. No gunfire. Only one character died, the result of a plane crash, which was just an unfortunate accident, not something carried out by the “bad guys.”
A little bit slow by today’s standards.
(There was one comment by a main character that almost made me chuck the book before I even finished chapter one. He says to his wife in a friendly, suggestive manner, “If….we had more time, this might be a pretty good afternoon for a rape.” It’s a comment that probably slipped by unnoticed in 1962. Today it sticks out like a sore thumb and sticks in my craw.)