Friday, October 16, 2020
THE EXPENDABLE MAN, Dorothy B. Hughes
A resident at UCLA hospital reluctantly gives a teenager a ride on a deserted road near Phoenix. Right from the beginning, he seems guilty, worried, and we wonder if he perhaps is an unreliable narrator. His actions seems blameless so why the fretting. The girl comes to his hotel room later that night, demanding an abortion, which he refuses to do.
But after 50 or so pages of his fretting and pacing, we find out why he is overly concerned and it changes everything we have thought about him until that point. Irritatingly, many reviews will give this away so if you plan on reading the novel, stay away from other reviews. I think this moment in the novel is far too important to be divulged. Written in 1963, THE EXPENDABLE MAN was one of Hughes' last works and it reflects much of what is coming in the later sixties. Although she didn't die for another thirty years, her only other writing seems to be a biography of Erle Stanley Gardner.
I found this to be a moderately exciting read although I must confess that Hughes' progressive thinking in some areas is undercut by her judgmental attitude in others. Perhaps this reflects the time, but she comes down very hard on doctors who provide abortions and girls who need them. It is well-written and the characters are deftly drawn. We get a good sense of Phoenix at the time. All in all, a good if not perfect read.