“The Pretenders” begins with a death, then decays.

Reviewers typically refer to The Pretenders as trash fiction and jump into a discussion of how another of Gwen Davis’s novels landed her in a libel suit some years later. Davis herself described The Pretenders as “a dazzling novel of the beautiful people.” I failed to be dazzled. The dead man whose funeral is the […]

Portnoy’s Complaint: Sophomoric, salacious, and insightful

Alexander Portnoy, Assistant Human Opportunity Commissioner for New York City, is a psychological mess, and it’s all his parent’s fault. At least that’s what he tells his psychiatrist, Dr. Spielvogel, in Philip Roth’s aptly named Portnoy’s Complaint. Alex suffers from stereotypes. He’s the brilliant and personable only son of a New Jersey Jewish couple. Alex’s […]

Myra Breckenridge repels and fascinates

Eponymous Myra Breckrenridge is as repellent a character as you’d ever not want to meet. And she’s absolutely fascinating. Gore Vidal presents Myra’s story as her confidences in her diary, written as therapy on the urging of her dentist and analyst, Randolph. Myra is in Hollywood to attempt to get money she believes owed to […]

Twilight Sleep will jolt you awake

Until chapter 32, Twilight Sleep is an amusing, satirical tale of an well-heeled family in New York City in the roaring twenties. Pauline Munford fills her life with activities to improve herself and her world — a world from which she keeps herself well insulated. Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton D. Appleton, 1927. 373 pp. […]

Elmer Gantry is satire, not exposé

Handsome, aimless Elmer Gantry is sent by his mother to small Baptist college where he plays football, drinks, and chases women. By a fluke, he becomes the champion of the campus preacher boys and is sucked into becoming a Baptist preacher. Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis Harcourt, Brace, 1927; 432 pp. #1 on the 1927 […]

Don’t Stop the Carnival. It’s too much fun.

Chucking the workaday world for tropical beaches is a paradise most of us only dream about. Norman Paperman tries it—and his inventor, novelist Herman Wouk, tells the tale. Don’t Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk Doubleday, 1965. 395 pages. 1965 bestseller #10. My grade: B+. Norm is bored with his work as Broadway publicity agent […]

Candy Isn’t Good for You or Anyone

According to notes in the Book-of-the-Month Club’s edition of Candy, Terry Southern in his pitch to his novel’s eventual publisher  said, “Candy satirizes American culture.” He might more accurately have written, “Candy satryizes American culture.” BOMC says the novel is “a lusty romp” — I’ll accept it’s lusty — “centered around the impossibly sweet Candy […]