Kept – Sheldon Lord aka Donald E. Westlake (Midwood #35, 1960)
What a beautiful cover art by Paul Rader! Worth the price of admission alone…
If this one wasn’t listed at various places as having been penned by Donald Westlake, I would have thought it was one of Block’s Lords. I believe it is the only Sheldon Lord penned exclusively by Westlake. The only reason I can think that it wasn’t published as an Alan Marshall is that Midwood #36 is Marshal’s Virgin Summer and either Midwood or the Meredith Agency didn’t want two Marshals out back to back (#34 before it is Orrie Hitt’s excellent The Cheaters, one if his best).
Mark Taggert is 28, a drifter with no roots, hitch-hiking his way back to New York, looking for work and a roof over his head. He gets a ride from beautiful Elaine, a 25-year-old rich girl looking for something — excitement, love, commitment.
Within hours after taking Mark home and sleeping with him, she feels she has met her soul mate. She wants Mark to live with her. Only, he is uncomfortable with her money, he doesn’t want to feel like a “kept man.” He wants to make his own way, but what skills does he have to get a good job? Elaine tells him it’s all about appearance — she will dress him in the right clothes, tell him how to act, fake it that he has a master’s degree from “Clifton College” — a fictional school in Ohio that appears in many Sheldon Lord/Andrew Shaw books and is based on Antioch College.
The guy in the mirror didn’t look much like Mark Taggert at all. The guy in the mirror was Joe Sophistication, a neat suave son of a bitch dressed like something out of Esquire, a fashion plat with his neck and face fashionably tanned… (p. 59)
(This is similar, too, to Lover, the Andrew Shaw novel where a street savvy kid reinvents himself in order to move about Manhattan’s upper crust society.)
He gets a management job with a textbook publisher where he excels and moves up. Still, he is only making $150 a week, little compared to Elaine’s $8,000 monthly dividends from her invested money. He feels he needs to be free from her so gets his own place and starts a romance with a girl at the publisher, Sara, and when he asks her to marry him, he is floored when she says no.
She says she loves him but she is not “in love” with him, and they have a long debate on the various natures of sexual, romantic, and committed love — much like the sections in A Strange Kind of Love.
Kept shares a lot in common with A Strange Kind of Love — both are well-written and deal with emotional vulnerability and the use of sex to mask true emotions.
Another one that should be reprinted.