The Circle by Francine di Natale (Barry N. Malzberg) The Olympia Press TC #444

Malzberg - circle

The cover is pretty simple — the usual plain green Traveler’s Companion series from Maurice Girodas’ Olympia Press, this time while he was in exile in New York City, having been driven out of France by scandal, lawsuits, and puritanical uproar.  Girodas was also irked that many publishers were making good money off his efforts — since Olympia titles were not under U.S. copyright protection, U.S. publishers could leaglly print them without paying rights fees and royalties — Candy, Tropic of Cancer/Capricorn, de Sade’s books, etc.  The public attention and Nabokov’s reps kept any U.S. money for Lolita going to the old professor, even though he claimed to have no interest in all the “Lo-litgation.”

Girodas wanted to go into co-partner business with publishes who had pirated his titles, but no one was interested — why pay out what they had been getting for free?  Plus Girodas had some stigma attached to him…he was not quite welcomed in the U.S., but tolerated, and the feds were looking for ways of getting rid of him, which they eventually did.

Meanwhile, Girodas found investors and set up shop, and one of his writers was then-young-up-and-coming Barry N. Malzberg, who had not yet made a name for himself in SF, and who had been selling books to Midwood as Mel Johnson.

The Circle (1969) is one of Malzberg’s single-shot female pen name books — others are Diary of a Parisian Chambermaid as Pauline Dumas (Midwood’s Classic Collector’s Series, 1969) and Lady of a Thousand Sorrows as Lee W. Mason (Playboy Press, 1977).

The Circle is a first person account of a young lady in the Big Apple trying to survive.  In order to get a low-level graphic design job in a big ad agency, up against dozens of women with more experience, she agrees to sleep with the man interviewing her — or, agrees to a dinner date, but they both know what that leads up to.  After she has sex with the married man, before he leaves he tells her to report to work on Monday.  “I got the job, of course,” she writes. She sees him around the office but never has to sleep with him again.  She sleeps with others, to get ahead in the game…

This set up is a sleazecore common — the secretary or whatever spreading her legs to get a job, keep a job, or get promoted.  Was this the plight of young women in the office work force in the 60s?  Is it the plight today?  Yes and yes — it’s the ugly side of office politics and the backbone for equal rights at work and sexual harrassment suits.  To work in big city offices in the 1950s-60s was to put out or marry the boss.

The narrator also has sex with her female roommate, Roslyn, one night — something that takes up the bulk of the book: while the two women make love, she thinks back on how she arrived here in the big city, all the men she’s had to bed, and how she would prefer to be with women.

I taught Rosyln…that a woman could come thigh to thigh, a woman could mount another woman…

How convincing do men write lesbiana?  Malzberg told me that the girlfriend of one of the Olympia Press editors read the book and said, “So who’s the dyke?”

A good early Malzberg…

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