The Spread by Barry Malzberg (Belmont Tower, 1971)
One of Malzberg’s least known books, it has had three editions: this 1971 Belmont Tower edition, a 1977 edition with an art cover, and a 1980 “price breaker” plain cover edtion from Leisure Books.
A note on publisher history: Belmont was once an independent paperback house that specialized in faux sexology studies and popular culture, as well as second rate science-fiction and mysteries. They merged what was left of Midwood (Tower Publications) and became Belmont Tower, then later merged with Lancer Books and formed an inprint, leisure Books — not the same Leisure imprint from Greenleaf/Cornith. Lesiure still exists today as Dorchester Publishing (which published a number of curious books by Linda DuBrieul), which supposedly still has the rights to all these old books, Lesire mainly publishers a popular horror line, romances, thrillers and westerns now.
The Spread is pure black comedy, and a nasty criticism of the sleaze rag era of the 60s-70s, the other half of the biz that went along with the books: nudie mags and newspapers under the guise of adults news and entertainment…
The narrator is the publisher of The Spread, a dirty little tabloid that had made him somewhat wealthy, although he has the usual problems of paper and printing prices, getting printers to publish his rag, greasing the hands of local authorities to keep from being raided, and paying authors.
His wife hates that he publishes smut, but she also knows she lives in good comfort because of it.
This narrator is like many Malzberg first-person story-tellers: sardonic and possibly insane; thus, he is unreliable and as far as we know, he could be telling a big lie from an insane asulym, or inside some virtuial reality program that is used for psychoanalysis (I had so hoped that would be the surprise ending of Southern Comfort, written as Gerrold Watkins, but that wasn’t the case).
He does crazy shit like call the people who place kinky sex ads in his paper; he calls them from his office and disguises his voice and harrasses and makes fun of them. Why? For the hell of it. Because he’s nuts.
He’s also doing his secretary, like any sleazy boss would — he spreads her out on his desk, so the title has double-meaning.
This is a funny book, really. If you’re not used to Malzberg’s dark sense of humor, found in his Olympia titles and much of his “science-fiction,” you may just think the narrator is an asshole. Well, he is, but he’s an asshole with a social agenda, such as his diatribe when he does a talk show with a Catholic priest who’d like to burn all copies of The Spread as an act of purity and censorship.
The books also got the same treatment, as religious do-gooders would often raid newstands and drug stores that sold sleaze. Sometimes they’d simply buy out the stock so no one, like kids, would get their hands on it. Did the sellers care, as long as they got paid? Did the publishers, as long as they got their money?
And it’s not unhead of for certain interest groups to pay a publishing entity to not publish certain things. The government, back then and now, just uses coresion and threat of prosecution.
The Spread‘s publisher stands for the first amendment and freedom, or so he presents his outer self, while his inner self slips deeper into madness. And what Malzberg does here is simuilar to Orrie Hitt’s Taboo Thrills — a criticial take on those in a free America who believe freedom of speech and press and life is select and conditional, rather than expansive and blanketing. It’s like that old saying: “All men are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
(In Hitt’s book, also published as Wilma’s Wants and Warped Woman, a group of do-gooders buy out the nafrrator’s books in town and burn them in a public display of protest against sex.)
I was reminded by a reader of this blog that I have been neglecting Malzberg, when I had started this blog initially to discuss the softcores by Malzberg and his buddy Rob Silverberg, as notes to two monograophs I am doing for Borgo Press and have been lagging on. So — more Malzberg to come.
I may even create a separate Barry Malzberg blog that will discuss and examine all his work, not just sleazecore, including his SF, crime fiction, non-fiction, collaborations, and what he’s been up to today.
Also: this blog will eventually morph into a bigger book, American Softcore, down the line.
I am writing an essay for a Prager encyclopedia, Queers in Popular Culture, about Midwood editor/writer Elaine Williams akls Sloane Britian, and her place as both in the lesbian pulp paperback era. I will post a watered down veriosn here, as sepearte book entries.
This entry was posted on November 8, 2009 at 10:59 pm and is filed under Barry N. Malzberg, Orrie Hitt, pulp fiction, Robert Silverberg, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags 1970s, Belmomt Tower, black humor, censorship, dark humor, freedom of press, freedom of speech, insane narrator, satire, smut, smut publishing, smut tabloids, social commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.