Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books, June 19, 2009

Fathers reading.

Please welcome R.T. who will be joining us most Fridays.

Ed Gorman is the author of the July release THE MIDNIGHT ROOM. Look for him here.

LIVE GIRLS, Ray Garton

Live Girls isn't exactly forgotten but given the enormous popularity of erotic vampire fiction today it is terribly overlooked. It's my fourth favorite vampire novel in fact, right behind Dracula, I Am Legend and Salem's Lot. And it is as original and startling as any of the first three.

This is a two-track story for a portion of the book. Walter Benedek finds his sister and brother-in-law ripped apart in their apartment. Hard to believe a human could have done this. He begins to look into the background of his brother-in-law and discovers that the man spent a lot of time at a strange sex joint called Live Girls.

At the same time Davey Owen, a young man working for a trashy magazine, gets fired and loses his girl. He begins to come to apart, ultimately drifting into a peep show at Live Girl's. Garton creates some of the most powerfully erotic and threatening images of sex I've ever read. The sex is so compelling you almost forget the sinister atmosphere of the place. The book was originally published in 1987 and the plague of AIDs that killed so many permeates the atmosphere.

Davey's life begins to change after a single visit to the club. He will return many, many times.

The novel is by turns witty (Garton's take on low-brow publishing is very funny), creepy (Garton really puts you in the narrow filthy hallways and basement of Live Girls) and moving because Garton has made you care about his characters and their fate really matters to you.

This is urban horror at its nastiest and pulp fiction at its best.

Jerry House

THE MAN WHO CALLED HIMSELF POE, edited by Sam Moskowitz (Doubleday, 1969).

This book came out when Poe would have been a sprightly 160 years old, rather than the more mature 200 he would have been this year. During his bicentennial it seems appropriate to blow the dust off this book's covers and take a brief look at it. Following a short article (by Poe scholar Thomas Ollive Mabbott) about Poe's life, Moskowitz presents seven stories about Edgar Allan Poe:

"The Valley of Unrest" by Douglass Sherley, a rare short novel from 1884 about the writing of Poe's poem of the same title. Sherley, born in 1857, was known to have been in correspondence with a close classmate of Poe's at Virginia University.

Julian Hawthorne (son of Nathaniel) offers a brief story wherein Poe had led a "normal" life, "My Adventure with Edgar Allan Poe".

Bookman and Sherlockian Vincent Starrett's "In Which an Author and His Character Are Well Met" covers Poe's last days and is reprinted from Starrett's hard-to-find book Seaports in the Moon.

Going to more familiar territory, Moskowitz presents Manly Wade Wellman's "When It Was Moonlight" and Robert Bloch's "The Man Who Collected Poe", classic stories both.

"The Man Who Collected Poe" by Michael Avallone is an interesting riff on "The Cask of Amontillado" that Avallone wrote as a filler when he was editing Tales of the Frightened, a short-lived horror/mystery magazine.

Moskowitz tells us that Charles Norman's "Manuscript Found in a Drawer" is the last of a trilogy of Poe-based stories (only one of the three had been previously published). This one's a murder mystery involving Poe.

August Derleth used a story idea by H. P. Lovecraft to write "The Dark Brotherhood". The story anchored Derleth's collection of Lovecraft miscellany of the same title.

"Castaway" is an original story by famed SF writer Edmond Hamilton and deals with one of Poe's ambitions during his career.

Then Moskowitz gives us two pieces under the heading "Fiction by Poe?":

"The Lighthouse" starts with a 600-word fragment by Poe, then formed into a story and completed by Robert Bloch in 1953. A number of other writers have recently worked the same fragment, but Bloch's take remains the standard.

From September 1838 through June 1839 (when it folded), the monthly magazine The American Museum of Science, Literature and the Arts printed an on-going serial by "Peter Prospero", "The Atlantis". The book reprints the first four of the fifteen existing chapters. Whether "Prospero" actually was Poe (as some scholars claim) or was more likely to be Nathan Brooks, a close friend of Poe, is open to debate. Moskowitz covers both sides of the argument in his introduction to the story.

Finally there is a brief section of poems about Poe, starting of with a trio of sonnets by Adolphe de Castro, Robert Barlow, and H.P. Lovecraft. DeCastro and Barlow had been visiting Lovecraft and during one of their nightly walks through Providence they stopped by a graveyard where Poe was known to have visited and each decided to write a sonnet on the spot. The results were uneven. August Deleth's well-known "Providence: Two Gentlemen Meet at Midnight", a brief, untitled Valentine poem written by Poe's young wife Virginia, and an original poem "Baltimore, October 3rd" by Robert A. W. Lowndes close out this section.

Sam Moskowitz's story introductions provide additional depth to the collection.

Reading the book, I was struck by how many of the authors here led lives as strange as Poe. Hawthorne stuggled back from scandal; de Castro (real name Gustaf Danzinger) was an amiable charlatan; Barlow was haunted by his homosexuality; Derleth was cocky and arrogant and rather proud of his bisexuality; Lovecraft's odd life as been recounted numerous times; Sherley's books were printed on thick orange paper and were bound with string through punch-holes; Avo feuded as much as he wrote (and that was a lot). A few of the authors led normal lives, but had a major influence on a number of fields. Lowndes was a Futurian and journeyman editor -- I once heard him tell of how he nearly lost a job because he let the word "Hell" be printed in a western magazine he was editing; Hamilton's work in comics include creating much of the Superman mythos; Bloch was one of the pioneers of the use of psychology in crime novels. I'm not familiar with Charles Norman, and I suspect it's a pseudonym (any information would be appreciated).

All in all, a very interesting book, well-edited and recommended.

Kyle Minor is the author of In the Devil's Territory, a collection of short fiction. His work frequently appears at, and has also appeared in The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, and Best American Mystery Stories 2008. He's working on a novel and a narrative nonfiction book this summer in Florida and Haiti.

THE BUDDHA IN MALIBU: New and Selected Stories

by William Harrison
University of Missouri Press, 1998

No one I know reads William Harrison anymore, but
back in the day, everyone did. Harrison was a regular contributor of short fiction to major literary journals such as The Paris Review, and also to commercial men's magazines like Playboy, and Esquire, where his most famous story, "Roller Ball Murder," first appeared. I don't know if this story is true or not, but the apocryphal version is that Harrison's students at the University of Arkansas called him "Dollar Bill," because he was always flying out to Los Angeles, trying to make a buck in the movies. At least once it paid off, if unsatisfyingly, when he paper-clipped his treatment for "Roller Ball Murder" to tear sheets from its run in Esquire, sent it to his agent, sold it, wrote the screenplay, and lived to see the film's director allow the stunt-men to rewrite Harrison's hard-earned dialogue badly enough to earn Rollerball the so-bad-it's-good cult status that Hollywood studios love (the green!) and writers hate (the shame!)

The Buddha in Malibu, a late-career reprinting of Harrison's best, is pleasingly all over the place. The book is divided into three sections whose titles explain th emselves: The Movies and Malibu, Africa and Anarchy, and The Future and Forever. Since Harrison was too wild and wooly to be widely embraced by the literati, my guess is that whatever posthumous legacy his name carries forward will rest largely on the futuristic stuff, but for my money, the best of his work is the Africa stories, which embrace a Hemingway-esque muscularity without the pared-back language in the way that Hemingway's style required. William Harrison's every impulse, even in the short story, is maximalist.

If you find yo
u like William Harrison's work after reading The Buddha in Malibu, there's plenty more left to explore. My favorite is his hugely obscure old-age story collection Texas Heat, which is still in print from the University of Texas Press, but the out-of-print novels and story collections from the New York houses that abandon him are all widely available, often for as little as a penny plus shipping on

Here is a brief list of some other forgotten books that deserve your attention:

Wet Places at Noon, by Lee K. Abbott (a former student of Harrison's)
Gabriela, Clove, and Cinnamon, by Jorge Amado
Fay, by Larry Brown
God's Little Acre, by Erskine Caldwell
Hard Rain Falling, by Don Carpenter
We're in Trouble, by Christopher Coake
The Knockout Artist, by Harry Crews
Voices from the Moon, by Andre Dubus
How the Water Feels, by Paul Eggers
The House of Breath, by William Goyen
Steps, by Jerzy Kozinski
God's Grace, by Berna rd Malamud
The Least You Need to Know, by Lee Martin (another of Harrison's former students)
The Cement G
arden, by Ian McEwan
The Collected Stories of Leonard Michaels
Sugar Among the Freaks, by Lewis Nordan (yet another of Harrison's former students)
Heat and Other Stories, by Joyce Carol Oates
Son of the Morning, by Joyce Carol Oates
The People of Paper, by Salvador Plascencia
Blood Brothers, by Richard Price
Lie Down in Darkness, by William Styron

Adrian Magson's
'NO KISS FOR THE DEVIL' - is book 5 in the Riley Gavin/Frank Palmer series.

SNOWLINE by Berkeley Mather (John Davies)

As someone has already intimated, being asked to talk about a forgotten book instantly brings a small problem: which one do you remember best and how much have you forgotten?
One title which also represents a series of forgotten books is 'Snowline' by Berkeley Mather, who wrote thrillers and screenplays, and who adapted the first Bond film, 'Dr No'. His real name was John Davies, and as a professional soldier, he clearly knew his subject, which was what old espionage hands refer to as 'The Great Game'. Spying, in other words.
Mather set some of his books in and around the hills of Afghanistan, with an assorted collection of spies, carpet-baggers, soldiers and opportunists. But his main character was Idwal Rees, a British spy, who operated undercover among the hill tribes, along with his Afghan tracker whose name, I have to confess, escapes me, but who was always central to the books.
The relationship between Rees and his tracker would probably be seen as slightly cliche'd in today's terms, and no doubt even slightly racist by some who look for that kind of thing, given that it was clearly Rees who was the boss. But the main focus of this book and others in the series, was the constant struggle against the Russians and others, who all wanted to gain supremacy in the region and, as current events seem to bear out, make a right mess of it in the process.
For me, Mather was the first of the spy writers to really captured my attention, because unlike Fleming, for instance, his writing showed great humour. He also had the skill to portray the hills and people of Afghanistan with a clarity which was totally convincing (to me at any rate - and I'm not too keen to go see for myself at the moment).
Thinking about the books now, which I haven't read since I was in my teens, I really must try them again. I know they were utterly absorbing then, and I read some of them more than once. But I think only another read will show how they have stood up to the test of time and the changes in thriller styles.

More forgotten books.

Ray Foster


David Cranmer said...

THE MAN WHO CALLED HIMSELF POE sounds like a must for Poe aficionados.

plastic.santa said...

re: Bill Harrison.

The "Dollar Bill" thing is true. I know. I was there in the 70s. (had an undergrad writing seminar with Harrison) The story of the genesis of "Roller Ball Murder" is even better. I could share if anyone is interested. And "Texas Heat" is a really good collection. I'm not a big fan of the Africa stories and novels, though.

Paul D Brazill said...

Looks like some good stuff there. hope to read a few of them before the liver gives up!I 'ditto' Kyle re:"Steps" and 'The Cement Garden'.

Charles Gramlich said...

That's pretty good company for Live Girls to keep. I'm going to have a look around for this one.

Todd Mason said...

OK, Lynn Speer, I'll bite. What's the origins of "Roller Ball Murder"? As late as "Two Cars in a Cornfield," Harrison retained all his ability...that's getting to be a few years ago...but I don't yet own a collection.

David, Moskowitz was a clumsy writer and often a clumsy editor, but the POE book might be his best, and full of interesting stuff.

I've been meaning to get around to LIVE GIRLS for decades, now.

plastic.santa said...

OK. Here's how I heard the story. (I wasn't invited. I was an undergraduate. :) )

Harrison, other teachers, and grad students had been to an Arkansas Razorback basketball game in the old Barnhill Arena. (This was when Eddie Sutton had just gotten there and the basketball program was just starting to become nationally recognized.)

A kid named (don't trust my memory here; it was more than 30 years ago for shucks' sake) Jack Schulte had hit a game-winning shot and the crowd had erupted. Schulte was pumping his fist. The crowd was screaming for blood. Almost literally.

Afterwards, in Jim Whitehead's backyard, the group got to talking about the crowd reaction. And how animal it was. And what might happen if it was more like the Roman coliseum and the crowd really wanted to see blood. The story also involved lots of beer bottles tossed over Whitehead's fence and lots of "and what if they" off the wall suggestions.

By the time he left, Harrison had the outline of Roller Ball Murder in his head. He later added the corporate involvement and the whole "fallen hero" aspect. But it all started at a Razorback basketball game.