Rapture Alley & Winter Girl

Stark House Press issued quite a number of two novel sets under one cover. This is a three novel set of Harry Whittington stories. Back in the fifties, a novel, particularly a dime store novel, was about 110-150 pages, not the massive 400 page behemoths issued today. Whittington was known as the king of the paperback novels and published 170 of them in his lifetime under as many as twenty psuedonyms.
This volume might be worth purchasing just for the introduction by David Laurence Wilson, who gives the reader a fairly lengthy history of Whittington and his writing career, including how successful he was in the paperback era of the fifties, how the advent of television depressed the sales of the dimestore paperbacks, and how Whittington was reduced to authoring softcore sleaze novels in the sixties. Wilson explains: “You can call it noir but what Harry really wrote were the blues.” What a great description! Reminds me of Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde, telling Beatty, “Baby, I got the blues.”

None of these novels are the classic shoot-em-up, bang heads, kind of detective pulp that one generally thinks of as noir-era novels, but they are still great, pieces very much of their era. They all contain many of the elements and themes found in noir novels.

Rapture Alley is a fascinating piece of writing. The plot is not terribly complicated or even original, but the writing is too good to pass up. It contains themes about young actresses coming to Hollywood to make it and ending up begging for bit parts and taking anything that comes their way, no matter how trashy, just hoping for a chance to be noticed and make it somehow. It is also about obsessive, unrequited love. Lora Cassell is the young lady come to the big city to become a star, but until she makes it, she lives with her older sister, who is confined to a wheelchair, and her sister’s husband, who she has been having a torrid love affair with, telling him there is no one else for her. A horrible love triangle that can only end in bitterness and guilt and unhappiness. There are other stories in this short piece, including a trip into the drug world of the early fifties as Lora is introduced to the evils of marijuana and then convinced to try harder stuff in her veins by a failed singer who wants to take her down the sewer with him. There’s also the story of back alley abortion doctors, unwed mothers, and failed lives so common for young girls in the fifties who get into trouble. Most of all, this story is about the blues, Lori Cassell’s blues. Whiskey can’t dull the pain of living for her so she she’s searching for what can.

Winter Girl is a southern blues story that includes a story of a young man growing up in poverty on the wrong side of town with a drunken, womanizing, wifebeating father, and little future. There’s the story here of a femme fatale in the form of a poor little rich girl who races around town in souped up sportscars and no one, at least no man, can so no to her. “She drove like a maniac, as if she hated cars, or herself, or the world.” Calder explains he had never seen anyone so lovely, had never seen anyone like her in his life. “It was as if she was burning up and the fire from her body burned me.” He thought of the other girls he had dated and realized he could never go back to them again. “Maybe she had spoiled me for all other girls,” he explains. Her story is also that of a wild, untamed, depraved nymphomaniac who turns every head as she passes. The story also includes a good girl from a solid family who plays for the young man’s affections. There is the frustration here as the young man fights against the rich man who thinks everything belongs to him and against a town that is owned and controlled by those in power. Calder’s father explains to him that a man is born hungry and that’s all he has. “Some men don’t take much to satisfy. Some men get spoon- fed all their lives and never know what it is to get hungrier and hungrier every day of their lives. Some men are born with everything, and some take it from other people, and some can’t get it.” This is the world according to Lutz, Calder’s father. Wow. That’s the hungry blues, right there.

Strictly For a The Boys is almost an Orrie Hitt type narrative. Amy married Burt at fourteen against all advice. Now at seventeen, she feels ancient, tired of the years if his jealousy and abuse. She divorces him when he got drafted, but he still won’t leave her alone, won’t let her be. He’s not gonna give her up and he’s going to break anyone who gets in his way. Amy gets a job at a factory, but the men there think all single girls and divorcees are fair game and they won’t eke their hands to themselves. Terry seems like the most decent of the lot, but what is Burt going to do if she dates Terry. This is a stark look at domestic violence in the fifties when it was tolerated by family and by officials who thought that they shouldn’t interfere. There’s no sugarcoating the terror and helplessness Amy feels.

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