Archive for manic depression

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.

Judge Not My Sins by Stuart James (Midwood, 1961)

Posted in Midwood Books, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2010 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

One goal of this blog is to discover lost works of American literature that were curiously and unjustly packaged cheaply as tawdry paperbacks for one reason or another — something Kurt Vonnegut once referenced to as literary art slapped between two covers that promised “WIDE OPEN BEAVER INSIDE.” It was the fate of his alter ego Kilgore Trout, whose fantastic works of science-fiction and social commentary could only find homes in the sex paperback market, and the only person who knew it was millionaire Eliot Rosewater.

Stuart James’ Judge Not My Sins fits the bill, to use a hackey’d phrase.

James was an editor at Midwood, as were other writers who doubled as editors for Harry Shorten: Elaine Williams (Sloane Britain) and John Pluckett (Jason Hytes) and probably others.  From what I can tell, James only published two titles with Midwood, at last under his real name: this one and Bucks County Report, both in 1961.

It’s a short novel, maybe 40,000 words. It starts with a 20-page “prologue” in the third person, and then moves into six chapters in the first-person about a 34-year-old hack writer on a one-night stand with a gorgeous young blonde lass, Leslie, who is afraid he will fall in love with her, as  most men do, after one night…and he does…

Stranger in a large, soft bed, brought together by city loneliness and the hunger for human touch. A cheap one-night grappling of sweaty bodies, the casual debauch, the dregs of immorality. But then there was something different, something new. As our bodies met in passion, there was an awakening, the birthing of something strange and unknown […] I had achieved a new dimension that bordered on the metaphysical, a sharp delineation of love — not the meaning of the word, the feeling. (p. 33)

Can one night of casual sex really do this to a man, or is he just so lonely and needing magic to spark the fire for a life that has gone to ennui?

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