All My Lovers – Alan Marshall/Donald E. Westlake (Midwood #15, 1959)
Most Donald E. Westlake fans believe his first novel was The Mercenaries in 1960, when in fact his true first published novel was Midwood #15, All My Lovers, as Alan Marshall, in 1959.
This Midwood concerns the tawdry lives of Manhattan’s uppercrust and the art scene. Martin is a 35-year-old successful stockbroker whose only intimacies is paid sex from his many immigrant maids, cleaning and servicing in his Park Avenue digs. His wife, Eloise, has her lovers, and calls herself Lou outside their home — she pays for a Greenwich Village pad to house her lovers, who all have to be artists.
The current lover if Jeffrey, 23, whose been a professional gigolo since he was 18 and discovered that lonely widows, divorcees, and married women were willing to support him in exchange of sex. On the gigolo grape vine, he heard about Lou and that she only wanted artistic lovers, so he pretends to be a would-be writer working on his first novel. Living in the Village pad and getting money, clothes, and food from Lou, he sits behind a typewriter now and then, acting like he’s hard at work on this grand novel.
The marriage between Martin and Lou is for show; they seem to still love each other, or are pathetically co-dependent, and while he allows her lovers, he’s not very happy about it. We later learn that they have never slept together once, so it’s a wonder why they are together. It’s not just the money and status for Lou, because she does at times seem to be genuinely concerned for Martin; she’s just not interested in him sexually.
The reason why Lou demands her lovers to be artists is an attempt to replace the absence of a painter she was madly in love with, a man called “Bastard.” He left for Europe and asked her to come, but she couldn’t leave Martin.
Martin hires call girls to beat and whip and be mean to, as surrogates for Lou, to express his anger and pain, just as he likes his maids to be submissive to his wants. He’s a manipulative man; he sets up a weekend jaunt to “the Wood,” up in the Catskills, with Lou and her lover, Jeff, and a mutual friend, Paula. There, Martin tries to make Paula, she denies him, and she makes the move on Lou, confessing she’s admired Lou all through high school and college, and that she’s a lesbian. She tries to convince Lou that men cannot love women the right way, only women can satisfy women. Lou doesn’t go for it.
Jeff and Martin get in a physical fight and all fall apart but this is what Martin wanted — to get Lou to drop Jeff and to have Paula make the moves on his wife.
Then Bastard shows up, back from Europe, thwarting Martin’s plans. While Martin takes it in stride about Lou’s various lovers, Bastard is a threat, because he knows Lou still loves him.
It’s a complicated story of a lot of hurt and lost people, people who don’t understand their own drives, needs, and emotions; people who last out at one another when hurt. They are miserable and unhappy Manhattanites.
For a first novel, it’s not bad. It’s slow at times, then builds up tension, then gets slow again, but the writing is pretty good, and shows how the early Westlake was honing the craft of narrative.
It’s a rare and pricey book — in fact, since Westlake’s passing in Dec. 2008, many of his early pen name works have shot up in price. I’ve seen All My Lovers run between $50-70.