I Should Have Stayed Home – Horace McCoy (Signet, 1939)
McCoy’s second novel is also pretty short, maybe 30K words, bleak, first-person, and covers similar ground as They Shoot Horses: the struggles of hopeful wannabe actors scrambling each day for extra work in the 1930s Hollywood industry.
The narrator is Ralph, a young and naive kid from Georgia, a strapping farm boy who is handsome but cannot get a break, mainly because of his thick accent. He lives on a couch in Mona’s Hollywood bungalow, a would-be actress who has a history of finding young men who need her mothering. They do not have a sexual relationship but the way they act with one another is almost like a marriage. Her previous stray boy is now the sex toy for an older woman, a rich Beverly Hills widow who has a lot of influence in the film industry and gets written up in the gossip columns and fan magazines. This woman sets her sites on Ralph as her next boy toy, something Mona is not too keen on…unless it might help her career.
The novel opens with a neighbor of theirs being sentenced to three years in the women’s prison for grand theft — out of desperation, this staring wannabe actress turned to crime. She later escapes and gets Ralph into legal trouble too.
Ralph moves about the shallow and materialistic power players and movie stars of Hollywood, both wishing for what they have and loathing the kind of people fame, money and attention has turned them into.
Other bloggers have recently written about this lost classic, noting its noir attributes and probable influence on Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. It takes on some interesting 1930s social and political issues, such as the beginnings of Nazi Germany, union strikes among actors, and budding Communist ideals in Tinsel Town that would later destroy many, even Mona in this story. There is a telling scene where Ralph gets riled up when he sees a white woman kissing a black man at a party; Mona has to hopld him back from beating the black fellow up — Ralph is a Georgia boy and seeing interracial affection is an abberation in his eyes, even though he is surrounded by naked women in pools, drunken lechers and wild lesbians, a black man kissing a white woman to him is a crime.
Mona is similar to Glora from They Shoot Horses: she is angry that others have gotten breaks in the biz she feels she is better at; she hates the shallowness and broken dreams of Hollwyood; she is jaded, witty, and self-destructive.
What is sad is that we know Ralph, or even Mona, will never become the famous actors they hope for; they will be crushed by Tinsel Town, used by rich people until they are too old to be desirable for the sharks, men and women alike; and will wind up going back home with their tails curled under their rears. And it ends on that very bleak note: they are all doomed failures.