Robert Hatch

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 616

[The prophetic entertainer] is a writer who makes no pretense to literary art; in matters of character, narrative devices, style and psychology, he models his work on formulas developed by the large fiction magazines, by television family drama, by the commercial movies. He is out for the very largest market (and he is reaching it), but the fuel that drives his vehicle is not love or success or adventure—it is doomsday. (p. 291)

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The true application of the method is to be seen in Seven Days in May …, [which is] at present leading the domestic fiction market and … which, it seems inevitable, will soon be on film for world distribution. [This novel is] built firmly on the foundations of suspense, sustained and sweeping action, the verisimilitude of technical detail, and simplistic but strongly projected character. These ingredients of success could be predicted; more important is the fact that [the book does not allow] a gap of time or place between the reader and the fiction. Seven Days in May … [is] as immediate, in the inevitable phrase, as tomorrow's newspaper.

Knebel and Bailey … write as men intimately acquainted with the public streets and private channels of the capital. Their tale is of a narrowly averted plot by the military leadership to unseat the President and seize the country….

The authors shape their narrative, not only to carry the reader on an unbroken chase after excitement, but to neutralize his skepticism….

I would give Seven Days in May a very high mark for probability. Its authors resort to no outre gadgetry, they envision no circumstance so bizarre as to lend distance and comfort. Beneath the blood-stirring excitement of their melodrama lies the clammy suspicion that just such a plot might be hatched, almost any day now, across the Potomac from the Washington Monument….

[The book] may point a way to communication in a noise-engulfed world. [It weaves] probabilities with human interest into a design that the reader can feel as intimately as the rug under his feet. (p. 292)

The literature to which Seven Days in May [belongs] achieves its popularity at the cost of falsifying—or, to be kinder, simplifying—human experience. And in the area of world crisis this may be a high price to pay for information, let alone entertainment. True to type, [the book deals], not in flesh and blood, but in super cardboard. And, true to type, they glorify man (including the reader). You come from them feeling refreshed, keen-minded, about ten feet high. It is the well-known Walter Mitty effect and it lies at the base of all mass entertainment.

The crises, described may well come to be part of history, but the solutions offered belong to the worlds of Eric Ambler and Clark Kent. Coincidence and accident are used impartially to set up and dissipate disaster, and the men who walk the edge of catastrophe have feet that falter, for the sake of the excitement, but never slip…. [In] the Knebel-Bailey thriller the last-second arrival of a tiny but conclusive bit of evidence will cause the least impressionable reader to cheer—and leave him safely in the grandstand.

The effect of reading these books is certainly to make the perils more credible. At the same time, if we are not wary, it is to make us believe that Someone Up There is watching over us and that our leader, no matter how late the hour, can be depended on to extricate us and themselves from the maelstrom….

[This book is] good medicine, but very careful note should be taken of the ingredients. (p. 293)

Robert Hatch, "Making Tomorrow Convincing," in The Nation (copyright 1962 by the Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 195, No. 4, November 3, 1962, pp. 291-93.∗

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