The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Quick Reviews: The Twisted Ones and Shame Market

THE TWISTED ONES (Gold Medal s861)

I recently filled a large paperback order bound for Norway that included this Vin Packer (aka: Marijane Meaker) title, so I had to hurry up and read it.

From the cover and copy you would expect a typical JD or crazed killer novel but--as is usual with this author--she came up with something unique and interesting. The book is made up of three semi-overlapping short novellas each focused on a single young character who's about to crack. We meet the "All Shook Up" kid (I don't have the book anymore and the character names have escaped me), a stutterer, and a child TV quiz show genius.

All Shook Up hates rock and roll but identifies with the Elvis lyric. He dresses sharp in high teen fashion and tries to win the attention of a girl by ignoring her and making dramatic exits. He's introduced comically, straightening his color and peeling out of the school parking lot, but as he endlessly replays and analyzes this exit, you get the impression that he's more than a bit OCD.

The stutterer is the child of a domineering mother who keeps regaling him with ego destroying aphorisms like "If you can't be a strong oak, be a pretty shrub". The stutterer actually wants to be that oak and attempts to escape his mother through a dalliance with an attractive and understanding waitress who lives in a trailer at the edge of town.

The quiz show genius is an 8-year-old with a photographic memory who's built up a huge prize jackpot on a local game show. His father is simultaneously proud of his achievement (especially because of the potential 5 figure cash prize) and afraid that his boss and friends will recognize that his kid is a bookish oddball.

The chapters alternate between these three characters and the only way they (very cleverly) overlap is that both All Shook Up and the stutterer watch--and react to--the quiz kid's TV appearances because he's a local celebrity.

These are all borderline personalities and Meaker gets in their heads as well as anyone I've read (on par with Highsmith's Ripley novels). But they probably could have safely navigated their adolescence (They don't. Spoiler!) if not for the interference of fearful and incompetent authority figures who try to make the boys conform to arbitrary social norms.

Because of the format it was more or less dictated that this book had to end in violence. One bloody ending is good, two is silly, but three makes it back into a tragic metaphor for the 1950s.

This is the 3rd Meaker title I've read. Each had an innovative perspective that still feels modern. They must have been challenging for the buyer who picked them up for the lurid packaging.

SHAME MARKET (Ember / Corinth 1964)

This is my first Clyde Allison read. He's most collected for his Agent 0008 - Sadisto spy spoof series but he also did a TON of standalone stroke books for Corinth Publications (Nightstand, Ember, Midnight, et al). I wouldn't exactly call him a stylist (I almost didn't make it through the first clunky, adjective-choked paragraph) but he's inventive and has good comic timing.

The book opens with a hardboiled PI making his way through a lush tropical forest, dodging parrots and catching fleeting glimpses of naked Polynesian beauties. He takes a rest, mops his brow and muses "To think, I always thought Akron, Ohio was a dull town."

Turns out he's in a giant converted blimp hanger that's been turned into a tropical forest by a shut-in billionaire. The PI learns that he must find the billionaire's pneumatic daughter who's "naked, in peril" somewhere on one of the fifteenth parallels (the billionaire would have been more specific but the ransom note fell into his hot tub).

So the PI goes globe-hopping from one tropical bordello to another, asking a question or two, but mostly just sampling the local trade and padding his expense account.

The sex scenes in the book (never much of a lark in the Corinth titles) are particularly rote and wearying here. I tried to skim but realized I was missing good gag lines and skipping half the book, so I knuckled down (heh heh). The best things in these scenes were the ridiculous euphemisms for lady parts.
She was nude. Joyously nude--nude as only a Polynesian girl can be....Her flesh was as smooth as stretched silk, as taut as an inflated rubber balloon--a five foot four, utterly lewd and lascivious balloon.
I wish I had thought to make a list of these but I thought of it half way through and I wasn't going back.

All in all an enjoyable read.

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