Archive for suicide

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.

The Curious Case of Sloane Britain

Posted in lesbian pulp fiction, Loren Beauchamp, Midwood Books, pulp fiction, Robert Silverberg, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2009 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

When pop culture historians and critics write about the lesbian paperback pulp era in the 1950s-60s,  the same names are often use das examples: Vin Packer, Randy Salem, March Hastings, Valerie Taylor, Paula Christiansen, etc., with such classics in lesbian pulp Spring Fire, Three Women, Baby Face, Women’s Barracks,  and so on.  Seldom is the name Sloane Britain mentioned, the pen name of Midwood-Tower editor Elaine Williams, although as both a writer and editor, Williams/Britain etched her own legacy in the history of early commercial lesbian fiction.

Williams started with Midwood in 1959, when the company first formed, acquiring and editing novels by Lawrence Block (Shekdon Lord), Donald Westlake (Alan Marshall), Robert Silverberg (Loren Beauchamp), Orrie Hitt, and Mike Avallone, among others.  It’s not clear when she left Midwood, if she did, but she committed suicide in 1964. Seems her family did not approve of her gay lifestyle and had disowned her, a matter she hinted at in her fiction.  She was 33.

She published her first novel with Newsstand Library in 1959, a paperback house out of Chicago: First Person–Third Sex was a deeply personal account of a third grade teacher’s discovery of her “third sex” passion and desire of a “twilight woman.”  It was reprinted in 1962 by Dollar Double Books as Strumpets’ Jungle (see above pic) , back-to-back with Any Man’s Playmate by James L. Ruebel.

Also in 1959, she published with Beacon Books, The Needle, a story about a bi-sexual heroin addict prostitute.

Her next novels for Midwood were 1960’s Meet Marilyn and Insatiable, like The Needle, written commercially for the market; These Curious Pleasures (1961), however, has the same autobiographical, first-person narrative that her first novel does. In fact, the narrator’s name is “Sloane Britain,” perhaps Williams’ indication that this book is based on her own life, rather than the writer’s imagination. 1961 also saw That Other Hunger. Both books sported cover art by Paul Rader.

Other titles were Ladder of Flesh plus two posthumous short novels published as Midwood Doubles: Summer of Sin and Peep Booth.  Three titles, Ladder of Flesh, That Other Hunger, and Unnatural,  were reissued in the late 1960s with new titles: Taboo and Delicate Vice.

Both First Person–Third Sex and These Curious Pleasures break away from the genre norm of lesbian paperbacks in that they end on a gay-positive note, rather than having the protagonist meet with tragedy for her sins of the flesh or meet a male she falls head over heels with, marries, and lives forever after in heterosexual marital bliss.  Publishers such as Fawcett Gold Medal, Beacon, and Nightstand often required this so the Postal Inspector would not prosecute for mailing obscene material in the U.S. Mails — if the lesbian character meets a horrible end or goes insane over her unnatural lust, or repents from sin and finds true love in the arms of man, then the books were deemed to have social value as morality and cautionary tales; if the books ended on a positive note with women loving women, that, in the 1950s-60s, was considered perverted and sick.  Homosexuality was still considered a mental disease that could be cured with medicine, psychology, or religion…

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