A Strange Kind of Love – Sheldon Lord aka Lawrence Block (Midwood #9, 1959)
The narrator is Dan Larkin, a 39-year-old professional author who has returned to New York drunk, broken, and a has-been…he started off in the pulps, got an agent, wrote a bunch of books, made good money, had a three-room Greenwich Village pad, and sounds like an alter-ego for Block at the time:
I wrote everything. I wrote under a dozen different pen names, all in all, and I was writing for half-a-dozen paperback publishers. I got an agent and he got me more work than I could handle [...] I never wrote a thing that didn’t sell. It was just a simple formula–I saturated myself in the stuff until I was sick in the stomach… (p. 11)
Funny, Block was just starting his career in 1959…did he know how true this would become ten years later?
From there, Dan Larkin got a job in Hollywood, making two grand a week..
And then I did a I very stupid thing. It was something I had never done before and something I didn’t plan on doing, and something I sure as hell never should have done [...] I fell in love. (p. 13)
He wasn’t the best screenwriter so he was bumped down to a grand a week and then he started drinking, and along the way the woman he falls in love with, Allison, takes him further down the rabbit hole. Allison is beautiful and sensual, but becomes cold and rigid when it comes to affection and sex…
You see, she didn’t fall in love with me. She didn’t fall in love with anyone else either, but she didn’t fall in love with me and that was the big thing. She loved Allison King and nobody else. (p. 15)
This He drinks himself to a stupor in his pain and loneliness and loss and all the other angst a writer goes through, loses his gig in Tinsel Town, and returns to New York with his tail under his ass and nearly broke. His pan is to start back where he began — buy a typewriter, hole up in a room, and write some stories and a novel. Get his agent back, get the gear moving.
He doesn’t know what to write. Is there a novel in him? Is there anything. He’s blocked.
But there are women — Marcia runs the rooming place he rents for $8 a week. She’s small, dark and gorgeous, and young, and she comes to his door for sex but tells him that she wants it casual, she doesn’t want emotional entanglements, she will come to him when she needs him, he won’t come to her; she says she doesn’t want to “care” for anyone and she doesn’t want any man to care for her.
There’s also a professional call girl living there, and Dan gets a piece of her too, but finds her lifestyle hollow. The women are distractions and he has to write — and he finds himself falling in love with Marcia. Despite her coolness, when they are together it feels perfect and right, but she keeps him at arm’s length.
He manages to get his agent back, Lou Harris, who must be a combination of Scott Meredith and Block’s agent there, Henry Morrison — a fast talking salesman with a fee reading staff and sexy women working as receptionists.
He does get the novel started. He also writes a detective story that his agent sells for a smooth $100 to a pulp in fast need to a filler for the new issue. Once he has 100 pages of the book — and Marcia’s approval that it is a fine novel — he sends it over to his agent.
And with the story money, and his despair over Marcia not giving herself to him, and his fear that his novel may be no good, Dan goes on an eight-day drinking bender.
When he comes to, he finds that his agent has a publisher in mind, Lincoln House, one of the top hardcover mainstream houses on par with, let’s say, Random House. The catch is that the editor, wants to meet him for lunch before a contract is signed for a $20K advance.
The editor appears to be an uptight uber-bitch with a Vassar education and a family with money, with the power to make or break any book she takes on, including the author. She confesses that she sees herself in his novel, and that they are alike: they are people with great needs for sex but hate the opposite sex, and loathe love. She lures him to her Park Avenue digs and instead of having sex, she demands he beat the hell ut of her with his belt. He knows his book contract is on the line and he does this, although he doesn’t like it.
It’s a brutal scene — in fact there is more physical violence, such as the moment Dan punches Marcia in the stomach when he can’t stand her anti-monogomy diatribe, on;y to find out it was all a ruse on her part because she fell in love with him at first sight, that she’s been keeping her distance because she is afraid of love.
It’s funny how sometimes you pick up a book and what the characters are going through is what you have just or are currently going through. You identify more. I read A Strange Kind of Love after a blow-out with a new relationship, and some of the conversations we had about love, distance, and the fear of love mirrors what Block wrote when he was 21.
And that’s another matter: this is a rather mature novel for such a young writer who had sold his first book only the year before. Sheldon Lord novels like April North, Older Woman and A Girl Called Honey read like the work of a 20-year-old writer. This novel reads like an older author’s work because it rings true, and comes from actual pain.
High praise? Yes. I know that Block doe snot like to look at his old work, and for many years he denied he was Sheldon Lord or Andrew Shaw, and he wouldn’t allow reprints until enough people assured him that, despite flaws, some of his early efforts were worth reprinting and had value.
Because everything comes easy except what matters.
Because when you get something you find out you never really wanted it in the first place.
Because the things you really want are the things you can never get. (p. 18)
This is one of those books. All the characters are emotionally vulnerable and fucked up; they are terrified of feeling love and joy because they have been hurt in the past, or they don’t believe such feelings exist for them. Yeah, there’s somewhat a sappy happy ending here, and we should know that all won’t be bliss for Dan Larkin, but what the hell.