The Fan Club: Another name for rape

Depending on your gender, Irving Wallace’s The Fan Club is either about the ultimate high or the worst degradation.

The Fan Club acts out its fantasies.

An interview fabricated by Sharon Field’s PR agent reveals Hollywood’s “Love Goddess” longs for an ordinary man to love her.

Adam Malone, a part-time grocery clerk and wannabe writer, enlists three other  equally ordinary, and equally gullible men to kidnap Sharon believing if she meets them, she’ll willingly have sex with them.

The four agree if Sharon won’t willingly participate, they’ll release her.

Once they have Sharon in an isolated mountain cabin, Adam’s quixotism is trampled by his three accomplices’ sex drive.

The men tie her down and rape her.

One beats her.

Using her dramatic skills and retentive memory, Sharon fights back.

A less skillful writer than Wallace would have reduced the kidnappers to stereotypes. Wallace makes each of them distinct individuals whose behavior is as plausible as it is despicable.

He also makes clear that when sex is used to sell entertainment, the entertainment industry must accept some blame if people believe the stories they’re told.

Wallace blows his superb plotting with what may possibly be the most implausible ending on any 20th century novel.

The Fan Club by Irving Wallace
Simon and Schuster [1974] 511 p.
1974 bestseller #10. My grade: B.

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Seven-Percent Solution: 100% fun

Sherlock with his pipe,hat, and tweed coat
Detail from David K. Stone’s cover illustration for The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is a twentieth century addendum to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, written by Dr. Watson with “editing” by Nicholas Meyer.

After he marries, Watson doesn’t see much of Holmes. One evening in April, 1891, when Watson’s wife is away, Holmes drops in, looking ill, behaving oddly, talking wildly.

Watson rightly suspects Holmes is addicted to cocaine.

Hearing that a Dr. Sigmund Freud in Vienna might be able to help, Watson invents a tale that lures Holmes to Vienna where Freud breaks Holmes of his addiction.

Holmes and Watson go along when Freud consults on a case of an attempted suicide.

Under hypnosis, the woman says she’s Nancy Slater Von Leinsdorf, wife of the recently deceased munitions king, Baron Von Leinsdorf. Holmes deduces she’s been held captive by the Baron’s no-good son and heir.

Under suspicion, the dastardly new Baron grabs his stepmother, shoves her in a trunk, and takes off by train for Germany.

Holmes foresees millions killed if the new Baron isn’t prevented from selling arms to Germany, so he Watson, and Freud commission a special train and steam off in hot pursuit.

It’s all delightful fun, even for those who are not Sherlock Holmes fans.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution:
Being a Reprint from the Reminiscences of
John H. Watson, M.D.
By Nicholas Meyer
W. W. Norton ©1974 [paper] 221 p.
1974 bestseller #9. My Grade: B+.

Cover illustration by David K. Stone on plastic-encased library copy of The Seven-Percent-Solution did not photograph well. As the saying goes, the book is better.

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

I Heard the Owl Call My Name: A Novel

Owl flying across the moon is image on I Heard the Own Call My Name
Cover art has a fantasy feel.

Doubleday says I Heard the Owl Call My Name is Margaret Craven’s her first novel, but that description is a bit overblown. Owl is really a longish short story. All the narrative bones are in place without the flesh and guts to make it a novel.

A Catholic Bishop sends a young, newly-ordained priest to a remote Native American community in British Columbia where running water means a river. There are no roads, no electricity, no telephone, no doctor.

Young Mark Brian has to adjust to a new role in an unfamiliar culture among people whose language he doesn’t know in a rural village miles from anyone he knows.

Mark is quickly captivated by the setting: the sea, rivers, fish, animals, and landscape enthrall him. The children are next to win his heart.

Mark is blessed with ability to listen and empathize, not forcing his ways on his congregation. Unlike most outsiders, Mark realizes the value of the traditional native traditions.

He is as torn as many of his parishioners are at the realization that the community is doomed to extinction.

I wish another writer had attempted to turn this story into a novel. A novel of this sort requires the author get inside the characters. Craven doesn’t do that.

I Heard the Owl Call My Name
by Margaret Craven
Doubleday, [1973] 166 p.
1974 bestseller #8. My grade: B

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Pirate: Arrrr, matey.

Having read three Harold Robbins bestsellers, I wasn’t looking forward to reading The Pirate.

Author and title names obscure  images on dust jacket of The Pirate
Images on The Pirate cover lost are in text.

The novel lived up to my expectations.

The story is set “today” — the novel came out in ’74—in the Middle East, which is the setting for most of the action outside of bedrooms.

The pirate is Baydr Al Fay, a Jewish baby switched at birth for a dead Arab one and schooled in England and America to use money to make more money.

Baydr is emotionally separated from his California-born wife, seeming to care only about their two sons, whom he rarely sees. Their elder son is soon to be named heir and successor to the Prince Feiyad.

One of Baydr’s daughters by his wife has joined the Fedayeen in rebellion against her father’s preoccupation with making money.

Badyr is a tough guy living by Eastern codes in which women count for nothing; however, my Western mind says rape is rape even if the victims have the personality of a foam egg carton.

The story jerks disjointedly though the sexual adventures of all the major characters and a few of the minor ones, until the novel ends in flames in the Syrian mountains.

The Pirate by Harold Robbins
Simon and Schuster 1974. 408 p.
1974 bestseller #7. My grade: D

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Dogs of War has a sharp bite

White type for title and author on red background suggest innocence.
Crossed guns on the badge are mercenaries’ insignia.

In The Dogs of War, as in his earlier bestsellers The Odessa File and The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth explores a subject ripped from the foreign wire services.

Dogs takes readers into the shadowy world in which high finance allies itself with political power, both using physical force to work their will.

A prospector notices unusual vegetation patterns on a mountain in West Africa, which indicate the presence of tin. When the report gets back to London, a scientist discovers the rock samples reveal a high presence of platinum.

To get the platinum, an unscrupulous British financier instigates a plan to overthrow an African country.  He hires Cat Shannon, a mercenary with experience in Africa, to handle the coup which must occur on Zagaro independence day, just 100 days away.

Shannon is a meticulous planner, carefully selecting his associates, taking advantage of differing national laws on currency transactions, buying goods to furnish a small army, covering his tracks, and always keeping a close eye on the calendar.

Forsyth’s typewriter knocks out flawed characters with redeeming qualities and model citizens who are total scumbags — and makes them both feel totally real.

Dogs has a surprise ending — and Forsyth makes even that feel inevitable.

The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth
Viking Press, © 1974, 408 p.
1974 bestseller #6. My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Something Happened

All -text cover of Something Happened is not interesting
Its dust jacket is as boring as Something Happened.

Joseph Heller’s 1974 bestseller Something Happened is a long-winded tale told by a mid-level, mid-career company man, Bob Slocum.

Bob talks like a bright sixth grader, bubbling with joy at potty jokes and inserting “ha, ha” to show when he’s trying to be funny.

Bob had an unhappy childhood, which set the tone for an unhappy life.

Bob became a man in a gray flannel suit who wants desperately to have an even better suit, which he probably won’t get, and even if he did it probably wouldn’t fit right, but he shouldn’t worry about the suit because nothing ever goes right for him and he’s already 40 and he has an unhappy wife and an unhappy teenage daughter, and preteen son who is a mess of insecurities and a brain damaged son who will never mature beyond a five-year-old’s level.

Bob knows he’s a revolting individual, but he is convinced he’ll never change.

He’s right.

Heller takes readers through 560 pages of Bob’s narcissistic monologues, coming back again and again to the same stories and observations that were boring the first time.

Then on page 561, something happens.

By that time, readers will be a numb as Bob is.

Something Happened by Joseph Heller
Knopf, 1974, [1st ed.] 569 p.
1974 bestseller #5. My grade: C

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: Cold-War relic

There's 1 red figure and 1 black figure among gray crowd on the cover of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
The man in the glasses is George Smiley.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a novel about ex-spymaster George Smiley’s efforts to uncover the double agent responsible for virtual collapse of the British Intelligence Service in the Cold War era.

Smiley had been forced out of the Circus, the British spy agency at which he’d been Control’s number 2, when a group of four young men rose to leadership and Control himself died.

When the novel opens, Smiley has been called out of retirement to find out which of the four is the double agent. His isn’t a cloak-and-dagger job, but a tedious search for patterns in data.

The excitement in the novel, which the film version probably captures far better than print, is provided mainly through characters’ recollections of what happened years before.

Tinker swings between then and now, telling about characters with multiple names and identities, which made me long for one of the whiteboards seen in police procedurals with photos and brief descriptions of the characters.

In his introduction to the 1991 paperback edition, John le Carré tells of the difficulties he had plotting Tinker and his sense that the story was already regarded as historical fiction.

Today it feels about as dated as When Knighthood Was in Flower.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
Penguin Books [paper] © 1974, 381 p.
1974 bestseller #4. My grade: B

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Jaws, a novel: Not just a scary story

dust jacket of Jaws is undercover scene of shark about to attack
A woman is swimming within a gulp of the shark’s jaws.

Having seen the trailer for the movie Jaws, I was surprised to find Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws not only read-in-one-sitting interesting, but also remarkably insightful.

The story is about how people respond when an elusive great white shark begins terrorizes a small Long Island town just before the July Fourth weekend that opens the tourist season.

When a young woman is reported missing, local police chief, Martin Brody, finds what’s left of her body down the beach from where her clothes were found.

The coroner confirms what Brody suspects: a shark attack.

Brody wants to close the beach to protect the public. The town council and businesses forbid him to do that.

When the shark kills again, this time with witnesses, Brody blames himself for lacking the guts to stand up for his convictions.

The rest of the novel focuses on Brody’s ham-fisted attempt to protect public safety and recover his self-respect.

A young shark expert from Woods comes to look for the big white. Up the coast a 50-something fishing charter operator sees the financial possibilities of shark-searching.

Benchley blends shark facts with keen observation of people. Jaws isn’t quite Greek tragedy, but it’s a ladder above most of the pop fiction of the ’70s.

Jaws: A Novel by Peter Benchley
Doubleday, 1974, 311 p.
1974 bestseller #3. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Watership Down is for children of all ages

In Richard Adams’s Watership Down a dozen males bond as they flee unknown danger into certain danger in search of a better life.

The adventurers are all rabbits.

The story opens when Fiver, a clairvoyant runt, senses disaster. He convinces his big brother, Hazel, to warn the warren’s chief rabbit.

Sign says six acres are to be developed into housing.
                 Fiver senses something ominous about this sign.

Hazel’s warning is ignored but the brothers and nine other rabbits leave the warren, ready to risk life in the open until they can find safety away from men.

Their exit is not a day too soon.

The warren is bulldozed to make way for a housing development. Only one rabbit escapes to tell the story.

The rabbits soon realize the habits they learned as kittens won’t work on Watership Down.

They learn to work together drawing on each individual’s strengths, befriend animals with whom they have common enemies, and become masters of strategy.

Adams is marvelously inventive in giving each rabbit the lapine equivalent of a personality and creating a rabbit oral tradition on which readers may eavesdrop.

Watership Down is a real place in England’s Berkshires and the landmarks that figure in the story actually exist.

Map of  Watership Down from the novel
   The map from Watership Down doesn’t photograph well

Adams is equally factual about rabbit habits, drawing on The Private Life of the Rabbit by R. M. Lockley.

Adams’s work ranks with C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and Tokien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, although it differs from them in one significant way: Its characters are all ones we’ve all seen.

Watership Down by Richard Adams
Macmillian, 1972, 429 p.
1974 bestseller #2. My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Centennial tops history with prophesy

map of Centennial from the novel's endpapers
The town’s map was laid out in straight lines, its history was less straightforward.

Readers familiar with Hawaii, Caravans, and The Source, will find Centennial is another of the place-based novels covering centuries of history for which James A. Michener is famous.

Through the lens of a fictional town in what is now Colorado, Centennial tells America’s history from the age of the dinosaurs up until the early 1970s, warts and all.

The first people who appear in Michener’s narrative are Native Americans whose nomadic lives bring them through the area along the South Platte River hunting buffalo.

An Arapaho named Lame Beaver and his family become the thread holding Michener’s tale together for generations.

Beaver trappers come to land, followed by farmers.

Centennial's first edition dust jacket
The story’s too complex for an image.

The vast prairie next tempts cattlemen whose livelihoods are soon threatened by sheep farmers.

Sugar beets mark the next phase of settlement.

No matter their occupations, the people of the plains are at the mercy of the weather. They and their animals require water, which by 1970 is already a rapidly disappearing resource.

Centennial is vintage Michener: Passionate, precise, picturesque, never glossing over the despicable, never wallowing in the salacious.

And as always Michener brings into his story historical facts that are more bizarre than any fiction readers could imagine.

Centennial by James A. Michener
Random House [1974] p. 909
1974 bestseller #1. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni