A clever early Nightstand from a very young Lawrence Block bends toward self-reflexivity, what later would be called postmodern fiction.
The narrative concerns three people: Dave and Nancy Schwemner, 34 and 29, and a girl who lives down the street, Lucy King, 16.
Dave is no longer sexually attracted to Nancy; he married her when she was 19 and delighted in her youthfulness, which she has lost. He wants a young girl for a lover, a teen girl; he has come to terms with what sexologists now coin as Ephebophilia — the male adult attraction to those in the 14-19 age range. (Another Shaw, Lust Damned, focuses on this theme.)
Nancy knows her marriage is on the outs. She recalls a lesbian experience she had in her teens. Her friend gives her a Fawcett novel, Strange Are the Ways of Love by Lesley Evans, Lawrence Block’s first novel in 1958. Then she has sex with her friend — and while she was ashamed, she knew this was what she was, or liked. Nancy wants to explore this hidden third sex side of herself.
Nancy is the neighborhood babysitter and she has boys over but never lets them go all the way. She would if any of them were forceful enough to take her, but she finds high school boys too mamby-pamby to be men. She needs a real man to take her maidenhood.
Dave hears about, and visits, a fat Greek pimp in a New York cafe that he hears can provide any sexual perversity for a price: from threesomes with twins, sadistic women who will torture a man or masochistic women who let men beat them, to ten year old vixens who will give a man fun all night. Dave isn;t interested in a girl that young, but he does tell the pimp he’d like a girl n the 13-15 year old range. The pimp provides him with a 14-year-old Nephrida, of Egyptian blood, to quell Dave’s inner need. It’s only for a moment, because Dave finds he needs to have young girls all the time, perhaps one as a mistress or wife.
Nancy meets a shop owner in town named Roberta, nickname Bobby, and Nancy knows the woman is a secret lesbian (Block has used the Robert/Bobby lesbian type in one of his Jill Emerson novels). She makes her move on Bobby and Bobby asks, “How did you know what I am?” Nancy knows. They have their affair, but Bobby is more afraid than Nancy.
Lucy heads into Manhattan to find a real man in a bar. She finds a guy who says he will “teach” her the ways of sex, but she has to do everything he asks, no matter what. He shows her a porno reel of a woman with two men first, so she will see what to do. He takes her virginity, a bloody and painful event, then makes her perform oral and anal sex (hinted at, really, for the time of writing) and she leaves disgusted with him, herself, and sex.
Block/Shaw then has the narrator, the author, step into the picture as commentator of these lives, sort of the way Rod Sterling did in Twilight Zone, or that Kurt Vonnegut did in his early postmodern novels. Shaw clinically examines these three people, noting that each has a twisted need, but is it bad? Cannot sinful desires lead one on the road to happiness, the way de Sade pontificated that if one had a need for debauchery, to embrace it and be who you are? “That which is natural is not always good. That which s good is not always natural.” (p. 189)
So one day Dave and Lucy cross paths on the street and they see each other’s need: he for a teen girl and she for a man who will treat her right. They get together and in a motel they have wonderful sex and fall in love.
Dave tells Nancy he wants a divorce. She’s okay with this. She runs off to the Village with Bobby and Dave marries his teen lover, much to the shock of her parents.
Do they live happily ever after? Seems so.
A fun read.
Reed Nightstand reprinted it in 1973 as The Unashamed.