Pick-Up

Pick-UpPick-Up by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing my conceit of qualifying terms for this genre, I offer:

Pulp Artist

I am always surprised at the humanity that surfaces with Willeford's handling of this cheap and dirty line of reading. He doesn't squirm or coyly turn his face from the squalid overtures offered by the characteristic covers (which I so love---they pack so much promise in an image).

Without beating around the bush, we have a story of two alcoholics, and their descent into the abyss of hopelessness that leads them to suicide. As much as that says, it doesn't reveal what I discovered about how much un-sentimental sympathy Willeford has for them with the existential twist at the end.

The story is simple, but Willeford's technique is solid enough to build nuance into each character's being. There is sex, beatings, murder, the cosmic joke of unasked-for redemption...and a lot of smoking and drinking.

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The Machine In Ward Eleven

The Machine in Ward ElevenThe Machine in Ward Eleven by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pulp madness

I hesitate to call this a "redux" of another Pulp category, but it does continue Willeford's excellent work in "Pick Up."

I say this in the sense that in that earlier novel, the hero is also (self)committed to a (nearly)psycho ward. The difference here is a stylistic (and internal logical) consistency where the patient isn't entirely aware of all the details. He says as much, and yet as the teller of the tale, where does that put us to judge the facts on the face of the telling?

Droll.

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The Burnt Orange Heresy

The Burnt Orange HeresyThe Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pulp Art redux

As in again?

Yes, this picks up on a theme developed by Willeford in "Pick Up." This isn't accidental because it is underlined (maybe highlighted would be preferable) by both artists' choice of...wait for it...Orange. Especially dark orange.

"Pick Up" is the better novel. This one moves us across the country from Frisco to Florida with the migration of the author. This one moves upscale, but doesn't make the fall anymore deeper (and possibly shallower) than that in "Pick Up."

In a nutshell: derivative.

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Our Lady of Darkness

Our Lady of DarknessOur Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pulp Fantasy
(only because calling it Horror in place of Fantasy would be a doubling of Pulp which is its own interpretation of middle-class Horror)

I chose to read this out of my stream of Charles Willeford (actually, I was reading "Pick-Up" at the same time) because of another book (how could it be otherwise?) by Don Herron, "The Dashiell Hammett Tour." Within those pages Don Herron offered a writer he and his group ran into on the streets of The City, Charles Willeford. The purchase of Don's book has lead me to wonders of writers who inhabited San Francisco. Don also introduced me to Fritz Leiber, who added many references of Hammett to his novel, "Our Lady...."

Already knowing how Leiber lived in a rent controlled ("Rhodes" historically Rhodema now Union) hotel in the Tenderloin (and which was merely several blocks from my girlfriend's apartment up Nob Hill), it gave me immediate identification.

However, to return to "Our Lady...."

This story is atmospheric and full of the lore of Megapolisomancy. The hero owns an original journal of a man who studied paramental life-forces that defied time and space; and destructive-forces of the city's megalithic monuments. This book, familiar to an expert who wouldn't touch it for his life, contains both the question and the answer to the journal writer's death.

"Our Lady" is invested with the (author's autobiographical) hero's mood of recovering from the alcoholism following the death of his wife years before. Even then, it is neither morose, nor depressive. Instead, the hero is surrounded with comforting and supportive friends who rescue him from the paramental's highly disturbing embrace.

Of interest, and possibly fascination, is the hero's rumination on the many authors and their titles in the field of fantasy and horror genres that were current in the early 1970s.:
Nostig’s "The Subliminal Occult,"
“The Haunter of the Dark,”
"The Outsider,"
Collected Ghost Stories of Montague Rhodes,
“The City of the Singing Flame,”
"Ames et Fantômes de Douleur,"
"Knochenmädchen in Pelze (mit Peitsche),"
"Suspiria de Profundis,"
"The Spider Glyph in Time,"
"Sex, Death and Supernatural Dread,"
“The Thing on the Doorstep,"
“The Disinterment of Venus,”
...and many others.

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Whip Hand

Whip HandWhip Hand by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is pulp, it reads like pulp, the story is pulp, and the considerably difference here is that the characters are dirt-farm poor pulp.

Distinctions abound as each of these characters has their own point-of-view chapter (or several). Further, their dialect is utterly dirt farmer.

What makes pulp? The scope of their aspirations. Scope is not the same as scale. In terms of scale, pulp characters are going to go for the whole enchilada. Scope reveals that the enchilada is all they plan for. If they are looking for a $1000 bank-roll, in very little time it lands in their lap.

Then what? Scale of aspiration is met, and a world of hurt follows because there isn't enough zeros in $1000 to pay for the mistakes they made getting it.

"Whip Hand" accomplishes the display of this tragic fault across every character.

Charles Willeford has written an existential pulp comedy.

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