We’re tickled yellowed paper that Stark House Press will reprint, in Spring of 2011, two of Silverberg’s Don Elliott Nightstand Books: Gang Girl and Sex Bum.
Introduction by Silverberg and Afterword by someone named Michael Hemmingson
Fabian titles always have a way of surprising. In this case, Honey Baby, as “told to” Rex Nevins (whoever that was) is the narrative of seventeen-year-old sultry white trash tramp Honey Baby Ashley and how she came to inherit quite a bit of her fatther-in0-law’s land in the Imperial Valley of California, bordering the Salton Sea. She sells it for nearly a million dollars to a group of real estate developers — this is the early 1960s, when a bunch of investors thought the Salton Sea could be the new oasis for the rich, a cross between Vegas and Palm Springs. Anyone who has ever been out to Salton City has seen that much of this development was abandoned before being finished, the Salton Sea contaminated…William Vollmann’s recent tome, Imperial, talks much about the Salton Sea of the past and present.
So how the hell does the Salton Sea become the background of this softcore sleaze novel?(Forget the horrible Val Kilmer movie The Salton Sea, which is crap.) Who knows. Honey Baby ain’t no great lost piece of literature, but it’s not all that crappy either.
Harry Jordon, the narrator, has given up pretty much on all things in his life. He is a failure as a painter and hated teaching art at college because , well, “those who can’t instruct others.” So he drinks. To havce money for booze, he works the counter at a small San Francisco diner.
One day, a pretty blonde woman, Helen, walks into the diner. She’s hungover and doesn’t know how she wound up in San Francisco, by bus or train, and her purse is missing. Harry takes her out for a drink, many drinks — they are both alcoholics so have that in common. She’s escaped the clutches of her wealthy, overbearing mother in San Sierra, whom she lives with as a virtual emotional prisoner after her failed marriage…her estranged husband is somewhere in San Diego, she hasn’t seen him in ten years…
Helen moves in with Harry; he lives in a rooming house and they pass off as man and wife, to keep things “moral.” Helen finds her purse with $200 of traveler’s checks which they use for plenty of booze.
She talks him into painting her nude portrait. He resists, but gives in, and while everything seems like lover’s paradise, the portrait — good in a medicore way — reminds Harry that he’s a failure: “Why couldn’t I be one of the 1 out of 100 who makes a living painting?” Facing his failures makes Helen face hers and the two fall into a manic depressive state. They are both bi-polar before that symptom had a description.
With no money left to drink, they decide to commit suicide together. They cut their wrists and lie down to sleep and die, but they both wake up only to find the cuts healed and they feel light-headed. They didn’t know they had to severe arteries.
So they decide to go to a hospital and admit themselves into the mental health ward, the bughouse as it were. Deeming themselves dangers to society, they are admitted on the taxpayer’s bill. After three days, however, Harry leaves but Helen is kept for a weak for more observation.
Reunited, they drink more and get manic. He gets various jobs but he can’t leave her alone in the room otherwise she will go out to bars and have men buy her drinks and he has to fight off angry army guys and sailors. There’s a lot of graphic violence as Harry fights off other men — he slices up a sailor’s face with a broken beer bottle, and when one man makes a snide remark about Helen, he does considerable damage to the man’s face and bones that the man searches them with a gun, wanting deadly revenge. When he finds Harry and Helen, Harry and Helen tell him to go ahead and shoot them and put them out of their misery. The man is confused, that is not the reaction he expected. He tells them to beg for their lives but they simply turn their backs and say, “Shoot.”
This is one dark novel, not to be read if you are feeling down. There’s a few detailed sex scenes for the sake of Beacon’s genre needs, but, like many of Willeford’s wonderful books, this is 1950s American noir existentialism at its bleakest core, about what happens to thirtysomething men and women who fail at their dreams and wallow in self-pity and gin.
The last paragraph is a nod to Hemiongway’s A Farewell to Arms, and the second to last sentence…well, it throws you off and makes you re-think the whole narrative, and certain passages starts to make more sense…
Black Lizard Books reprinted it in the 80s, calling it “psychological suspense.” Not sure if that’s it, more the tale of bi-polar horror.
Black Mask Books also has an edition.
In the pulp days, one could find the latest Nightstand, Bedstand, Midwood, Pocket, Gold Medal, Saber, etc., at the thousands of newstsands in every major city across the country; these stands sold newspapers, magazines and books (the Nightstands were always classified as magazines, not novels).
The newsstand is now a rarity, and they seldom carry paperback books ecept for racks with popular mass market titles. Not so in Mexico. While in Tijuana, we noticed newsstands on every corner, carrying a variety of newspapers and pornographic comics and little magazines, as well stacks of western novels by one Marcial Lafueente Estefania. Hundreds of them.
Estefania, 1903-1984, was the son of journalist and writer Federico Lafuente , author of The Ballad of Don Quixote (1916). . The Spanish Civil War was the foundation of his writing: during his incarceration by the government, he claims to have written his first novel on toilet paper with a stylus. His two sons helped him write his books toward the end of his life, and he did one serious novel that flopped.
He’s the Louis L’Amour of Spanish western novels,m pumping out one a week, hundreds if not thousands of these short genre novels — they all tend to be in the 90-100 page range. What we found interesting is how most of them are printed: with thin glossy covers much like the paper once used by Fabian/Saber/Vega Books.
How are they? We don’t read Spanish so we don’t know, but a quick glance, they look like they have breezy, fast-paced prose.
Many of the copies we saw in Tijuana looked water damaged and used, and were priced lower than the ones that looked new. Seems they practice was (still is?) that one could return these books for a low price and get another; this way, they never knew how many people read these books, but they were and still are quite popular, the way Louis L’Amour still is now.