Archive for alcoholism

Pick-Up by Charles Willeford (Beacon Books, 1955)

Posted in Beacon Books, crime noir, noir fiction, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , , , , , on November 7, 2010 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

A strange and amazing tale of alcoholism, failure, suicide and crime, and probably the most depressing vintage softcore novel we have come across yet.

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.

Enough of Sorrow by Jill Emerson aka Lawrence Block (Midwood Books, 1965)

Posted in Lawrence Block, lesbian pulp fiction, Midwood Books, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , on September 21, 2010 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

Lawrence Block stopped writing as Andrew Shaw and Sheldon Lord by 1964, but he kept at the lesbian novels as Jill Emerson with two titles, Enough of Sorrow and Warm & Willing. As previously noted, Block would use his Emerson pen name for more commercial, hardback womens and erotic fiction.

Enough of Sorrow exhibits much more maturity in authorship and seriousness in theme than previous lesbian titles by Block, as Leslie Evans, Benjamin Morse, Ben Christopher and Sheldon Lord.

The novel opens with a depressed and lost woman, Karen Winslow, who checks into a cheap New York City weekly rooming house with the plan to commit suicide. She is pregnant and the married man who gave her the baby skipped out when she told him, leaving her alone to deal with a child.  She is saved by a neighbor amd wakes up in the hospital alive, but told she lost the fetus.

She later gets an apartment and meets a new tenant named Rachel. The two become friends, then lovers. Karen realizes she may have been a lesbian all the time, never knew it, maybe this is why her relationships with men were always bad.  She and Rachel (Rae) move in together and are happy lovers for a while. Karen gets a job as a receptionist for a talent agent who deals mostly with TV and bit actors and exotic dancers.

Karen starts drinking a lot, a gradual downswing from too such social drinking to drinking at home and then needing booze to function. Rae is worried,. Karen says it is no problem until she tries three dry days sober.  It is hard at first, then hellish, as she cant type at work and she has a headache and the shakes.  On the third day she gives in to her addiction and gets sauced, comes home and fights with Rae, then goes out on a bender, hitting up a number of lesbian bars, dancing, making out, and fingering all kinds of dykes, from lipsticks to bulls to skinny young girls exploring the scene.  She wakes up in bed with a drooling, snoring bulldyke and runs out…when she gets home, Rae has left a note saying she needs some time away from these troubles.

The passage about the evils of booze eminded me of Block going into the same issues with his Matt Scudder character, who destroyed his life with booze and then went to AA. It makes me wonder about Block and alcohiolism, if this is personal ‘… and I am sure Block has talked about it somewhere, I have just not seen it. MMaybe not… this is from wikipedia;

Though it’s been suggested that Scudder’s struggle with alcoholism is in part autobiographical, Block has repeatedly refused to discuss the subject, citing AA’s own tradition of anonymity.

Eventually, Karen does win her battle with booze and disasterously sleeps with an actor she knows, an older man in his 60s, to determine if she is really gay or bi or whatever.

The book ends on a somber note, with Karen finding the strength to move on, move to anther city, and to say enough of sorrow, time to live.

Not a bad little book…would have preferred a darker ending, more in a Block tradition, but this is a moral lesbian tale…