Fellow Malzberg fan Jim Mix sent me a copy of this lost Malzberg/Johnson classic, A Way with All Maidens, issued by the short-lived imprint, Oracle Books (looks like they only put out eight titles, two of them Malzbergs, the other being The Box).
Maidens is, like many Malzberg novels, a darkly humorous romp through insanity and sexuality, and a bit different than your usual Malzberg yarn. It concerns an acting troupe in England preparing to put on a production of The Tempest, directed by someone name “S—-” who also seems to be the writer. The play is in manuscript form, inked on good paper. We don’t realize until 20-30 pages in that the action is supposed to be taking place in the 17th Century, and that “S—-” may very well be the Bard himself, ol’ Shakespeare, 47 years old. Or is he? And is this really the past? The language is 20th century colloquial, wth the exception of a few “trollops” and “slatterns” tossed into dialogue. But were words like “asshole” and “fuck” used back then? Like the Malzbergian Gerrold Watkins’ Southern Comfort, set during the Civil War, neither the narrator nor the characters speak in historical idiom. So we have to wonder about the validity, and keeping in mind that this is Malzberg, it’s possible the narrator is simply insane:
Pauda? Sorrento? Milan? Or Rome — I think it was Rome. Of course I am not sure of any of these; they may all be mental rather than physical places. (p. 13).
Characteristic of Malzberg’s sex books, this one opens with a sex scene, with an obsessive interest in nipples:
Her breast was enormous in my mouth, the nipples huge and pointed, my teeth chewed down on it, and it was as if, from this angle, I am totally surrounded by her flesh. (p.5)
Of course, it has to open with a sex scene, for a book like this, for reader appeal, since the cover is plain orange without any art or photo models. They did this to make production cheaper, not having to pay for art or photography — with a nod towards Olympia’s plain green, pink, and gray covers. Midwood was doing the same at the time, the late 60s-70s.
Here is a scan of a British pirate edition. Haven’t seen it but heard it was basically a photo copy of the original slapped together in a taped spine.