Lover by Andrew Shaw (Lawrence Block), Nightstand #1551 (1961)
Another potent early Lawrence Block, this time as Andrew Shaw; it’s a dark tale with a rather depressing ending, not the usual happy endings we tend to see in sleaze books where the protagonist repents from his/her sinful ways and finds happiness in the arms of a good man or woman.
Lover chronicles the making of a gigolo, how a kid from the slums learns to use lonely rich women for their money, and remakes himself through autodidcactism — similar in a way to Loren Beauchamp’s Connie, reviewed here months back.
Johnny Wells is 17 when the book opens. He’s a good-looking sexy boy in jeans and a leather jacket and long hair. He wanders the streets around 57th and Third in New York until he exchanges looks with older women who find him tasty-looking.
It all started when he was 15…
He was stealing milk from a tenement and then a woman, 30, catches him. She’s a lonely houswife and invites him in for a glass of milk…and gher body…he’s a virgin. She tells him he’s beautiful and she will teach him everything he needs to know about sex. Over the months, she does and tells him he could by in the world with his looks, body, and cock. When she and her husband suddenly move, he tries his way with women…
He finds out that women in their 30s-50s, widowed, alone, or unhappily married, will pay him for sex. He charges $5 a lay, or $20 all night. The women buy him things, too, plus food. He pays his rent in a crappy apartment building. On the side, he steals and fences things and occasionally rolls a queer, like the rest of his buddies on the street.
One day he picks up a lonely widow in her late 30s coming out of a store. He seems to have a way of hypnotizing them — hence the eyes on the cover art. He has a radar for women who need love and sex. Only in the 60s and 70s did people do this sort of thing, leave with a stranger they just met on some street, for sex and adventure…things like Looking for Mr. Goodbar has since put the kabosh on such sexual practices. (An actor I knew who was in college in the early 70s told me how easy sex was back then, how girls would knock on his door and walk in half-naked and stoned, saying, “Wanna fuck, baby?” — seems like some weird alternate universe for those of us who grew up in the 1980s-90s.)
This woman feels shameful when it’s done and starts to mock him, calling him a whore, a slut, a prostitute, chiding him so that he beats her up and knocks her out. Then he steals all the money in her purse — $167, and takes some jewlery and watches that he fences for $350.
He’s never had $500 in his life at one time — about $5K in back-then cash, so he’s rolling. He sees this as his way to get out of the slums and work the wealthier angle of Manhattan. He buys a suit, shirts, tues, shoes for $200, gets a haircut, checks into an upscale hotel.
But before he leaves the slums, he has a one-nighter with the girl down the hall, Linda, who has been playing eyes with him for a while. Problem is, she’s only 14. But she comes into his room with a towel and throws himself at her and figures why not, he’s leaving tomorrow. Despite acting like she knows what to do, he discovers she’s a virgin — she used him to lose her cherry. Now he really needs to split, because even at 17 he could get busted for statutory rape.
Working the bars near Park Avenue and Lexington, he finds women. There are even specific bars for women to pick up gigolos (I know of such bars in Los Angeles, they used to exist, I don’t know about now). He makes good money. He has one steady, an architect named Moira, but during a trip to Vegas, Moira discovers she likes women better than gigolos.
Johnny self-educates himself, too: he checks out books on history and sociology, he subscribes to The Partisan Review and digests The New York Times every morning; this way he can talk smart and intellectually among the high breed when he goes to parties. He has them all fooled — no one can tell he’s a kid from the slums; he passes off as a young man of culture, an Ivy League graduate who has a way with women.
He also feels quite empty. He goes back to the old neighborhood. It’s only been four months. Most of his street buddies have split town or are in jail. He goes to check on Linda…
She dresses sexier now, still 14, and she’s working the streets herself. She says she only turns one trick a night, enough to pay for her own room and for food and booze.
They are quite the pair, the teen whore and jaded gigolo. They also fall in love and get an apartment together in Greenwhich Village, Block’s favorite part on New York where he lived and where many of his sleaze books take place, espceially his lesbian novels.
There’s more sex in this Nightstand than usual, and for Block, but it’s still toned down, with a lot of “kissing” here and there for oral sex, and one woman’s creative way of explaining how she took on five men at the same time: “One was in here, as usual, and one here, and one here…” here’s also a strange orgy scene where everyone gets off while watching a silent stag film, even re-enacing the scenes with each other…seems more like a scene from Max Collier’s Mark of a Man than a Larry Block novel.
Another envelope push is all the sex with a 14-year old, especially when Johnny takes her virginity, she has just turned 14. Today, people would scream kiddie porn in these books — similar to another Andrew Shaw book, Lust Damned, talked about here, about the married man who craved seducing young girls.
Both Johnny and Linda give up the young whore’s life and attempt to enter the normal world, sort of. Johnny fakes a resume stateing he is 25 with a B.A. in communicaions and gets a job at an ad agency with his colorful writing samples. He is making $100 a week, which he finds ironic as that’s what he made a night as a hooker.
All seems well, for a while…then the cops are waiting for him one day. Seems Linda met with some complications from a botched abortion. SHe was three months gone, so Johnny realizes it must have been from one of her tricks and she didn’t want to tell him and mess up their bliss. She went to the ER hemmoraging but died.
Johnny goes on a drinking binge of despair and darkness. He drinks and drinks until his money is gone and because he looks like shit, he sells himself to men insteadof women…but drinks more and more…gets a job as a janitor, drinks cheap stuff…he’s 18 and his life is over: ex-whore, his love dead, no prospects…
It’s refreshing not to have one of those tacked-on sappy happy endings, but those mostly seemed endemic of Beacon Books titles. Here, Block was firing almost all pistons, save maybe two. On a scale of 1 to 10, Lovers is an 8, and aother recommneded read.