Friday, April 26, 2024


reviewed by: R. Narvaez was born and raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 
NOIRYORICAN is a recent publication.

I Am Thinking of My Darling,
Vincent McHugh

A virus. The City. Civic chaos. Government collapse. The stuff of zombie flicks and terrorist scenarios in 2010. But back in the ’40s, such a plot could still be light-hearted. In Vincent McHugh’s 1943 novel I Am Thinking of My Darling, a virus infects New York City—but it's a happy virus! The infected follow their bliss, feverishly losing their inhibitions (for you Trekkies, think "The Naked Time" episode). The problem is that no one wants to work. Honestly, who would?

Acting planning commissioner Jim Rowan returns home from a trip to DC to find cheerful chaos quickly spreading across town—and his actress wife Niobe missing. She’s infected and on the lam, looking to live out a succession of character roles in a kind of Method fervor. Meanwhile, in an emergency management meeting (consider what that term evokes today), the mayor announces he has the virus—and would rather play with model trains than lead the City. To avoid panic, Rowan is secretly made acting mayor.

The plots riffs genially from there, with Rowan hot on the trail of his slippery wife, cabbing from City Hall to Harlem across a Cityscape in Mardi Gras mode—all the while consulting with civil services to keep things running and with scientists to find a cure. (The fact that the virus apparently originated in the tropics, implying that people there are inhibition-less, may be another artifact of the past.) A polymath (when being a polymath was simpler), Rowan narrates in sensual, informed detail about now-bygone architectural wonders, regional accents, lab science, and jazz music.

This book, with its glad-rag view of a long-lost era, has been a favorite of mine since it was recommended to me decades ago. (I still have my first copy, bought in the now-bygone Tower Books in the Village). McHugh, a poet and a staff writer for The New Yorker in the ’30s, employs a prose style that winks slyly at Chandler and pulp. (Once Rowan is inevitably infected, he’s like Marlowe on E.) Darling also features a nice amount of sexual frankness that may surprise modern readers who forget that people in the ’40s had sex. The novel was made into the very '60s movie What's So Bad About Feeling Good?, but by then the times had already been a-changed enough that the conceit no longer had the right kind of jazz.


Jeff Meyerson said...

You know, I bought a copy around the time of this review and I tried to read it, several times. I could not get into it at all.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Maybe it was not a good one to choose.

Steven A Oerkfitz said...

One of the worst titles ever. Sounds like a romance novel.

Todd Mason said...

All the laptops I touch around here go kaput (I do tend to grab up the older ones, as Alice likes to type in Dvorak keyboard configuration and uses the others in her work and videogaming). This one has a non-too-broken keyboard, but loves to drop connection with the household wi-fi. Its keyboard does have a somewhat annoying Qwerty format, with some function keys in odd places. (ChromeBook.)

Hence, a grumpily rewritten comment:
I think it''s a fine choice of FFB reprint, inasmuch as I've meant to Go Look for the novel since reading the review the first time, and fondly recall the mildly good if a bit goofy film version, which I caught on television as a kid in the '70s. It definitely was written in the mode of Thorne Smith, hugely popular at the time (and Noel Coward and others added to this vein of fantasy), which could lend itself to archness. And, certainly, "genre boundaries" were a lot less calcified in the '40s than they would become over the next 80 years.

And, Steve, I think the title is a line from a song, but I'm mostly coming up with close approximations.

Still in touch with Narvaez at all?