The Drifter by March Hastings (Midwood)
I plan to write a bit of a lengthy discussion of March Hastings as I read more of her books. My first was Duet by Laura Duchamp, that I have discussed here. Hastings and Duchamp were the pen names of a writer named Sally M. Singer, who was a bonafide lesbian writing about bi-sexuality and lesbians, rather than a man writing them. Under her own name and as Amelia Jamison, she seems to have written some gothics, romances, and others, seen here.
At Lynn Munroe’s site, he tried to reach her for an interview but seems she had disappeared in obscurity, not wishing to discuss her days as a softcore writer.
In lesbian pulp lore, her most famous novel is Three Women, which has been reprinted by both Niad Press and Cleis Press as lesbian classics. In 2000, the Quality Paperback Bookclub issued Three Women back-to-nack with another lesbian classic, Women’s Barracks.
For collectors, Hastings’ Her Private Hell is always priced around $100 of more, mainly for the Paul Rader cover, but Rader did many of her books, such as the first edition of The Drifter (above). The second edition has a photo-cover of a woman next to a piano player, with a jazzy slum feel — I prefer the Rader cover (beats me why Midwood would change a great cover to a not-so-great cover).
Glancing through the Hastings novels I have — Fear of Incest, A Rage Within, Obsession, Crack-Up, Barbie — and the Laura Duchamp books (I’m not sure if she had other pen names, probably, as she wrote for a number of companies), Sally Singer focused on the world of the wealthy and rich and their psyco-sexual probelms. The women are often married to men who are sadists, impotent, or just “wrong” — and they often find solace in the arms of another woman, an oft-use set-up for vintage lesbian stories.
Her writing is amazingly good, far too good for “sleaze.” I previously stated that Joan Ellis wrote elegant dirty books; March Hastings ups the ante, and is on par with Joyce Carol Oates’s 1960s work. Her prose is smooth, her dialogue top notch, her charcters and their situations believable, if we want to believe the angsts of the upper crust of society.
In The Drifter, a woman named Dina has made an error in marriage — her husband, Emil, is impotent, and only likes to watch her masturbate while he looks at a photo of his sister, whom Dina resembles. He is also mentally cruel. After a month of marriage, she leaves him and runs to Jeff, a rich ex-boyfriend on Long Island whom she has had an on-and-off relationship with for many years.
At Jeff’s house (or mansion, with servants), she meets Lauren, a lesbian, and has an encounter, and becomes confused, thinking she loves Lauren and has always been gay, while Jeff wants to marry her when her marriage is annulled and Emil is hunting her down, revenge on his agenda.
She hides in a sleazy Harlem boarding house (hence the cover) and drinks her pain away, where an old family friend, a “cousin,” rapes her, and she realzies he had been raping her alcoholic mother in the past. Dina doe snot come from money, she came from the slums, and only mingles wth the idle rich via Jeff.
She also gets raped by a bull-dyke lez.
For all her sexual sins, she feels she deserves this.
There is a happy ending, of course: as she has a talk with Lauren and realizes she is not a lesbian, really, and she makes plans to marry Jeff, after Jeff pays off Emil a million dollars to agree to an annullment.
Recommended for a good, language-rich read.
I look forward to reading and discussing other Hasings and Duchamp novels as I get to them…