Wednesday, November 7, 2007

I WANT YOU by Lester Lake, Private Edition Books, 1963, 160 pages, 95¢

"Stupid men seem to think it’s quantity not the quality of a woman’s flesh that counts."

Jay Forbes is meant for more than the “grubby, small-time office manager’s job” in which he struggles. After winning $400 in a poker game, he decides to leave the icy mush of New York City to become a gigolo in Miami, Florida. But the new clothes and “classy looking” luggage don’t fool anyone. “He found out that you can fake having money but it’s difficult to fake mannerisms, airs, and conversational gambits of men from wealthy families.” After a few days of looking he finds a “gorgeous million-bucks-on-the-hoof” named Luanne St Clair, who asks him to take her home. They make love “with all the savage suddenness of a violent tropical storm.”

Jay thinks he’s found his sugar mama, but the next morning she laughs in his face, insults the bad tailoring of his clothes, then gives him 50 bucks to get out of her sight. Though he takes the money, he puts her in her place when he tells her, “Thanks for nothing, you cheap lousy, oversexed little bitch!”

He decides he was aiming too high. “Why couldn’t he hook some middle aged woman... A woman who had an income, perhaps of thirty or forty grand a year. If she was [sic] ugly as sin it wouldn’t matter. He could still get his kicks on the outside.” So he heads to St Petersburg, presumably the perfect spot for the man who is tired of aiming too high (he could have gone to Tampa).

In need of more scratch, Jay hits the greyhound racetrack and I assume that the author is more a gambler than a lover, because his descriptions of the mechanics of placing bets at dog tracks are intense and descriptive, even a little educational (I never knew what a $2 Quinella was). In seven pages Jay loses $20, and decides to leave but a “big buxom blond” named Thelma Gray asks him to make one pick for her, and he does, a 25 to 1 shot that comes through, netting her $546 on her $20 bet. She gives Jay $50 and invites him out for a night on the town. Even though she’s just a 34 year-old waitress who drives a battered old Chevy, he agrees, and they paint the city of lowered expectations red. At one club, they find themselves in a booth, thighs touching, and she takes his hand and puts it under her skirt. “Instinctively, his hand moved along the silken expanse of her thigh, carressingly [sic]. Suddenly, he gasped, a little bit shocked: ‘Hey, don't you wear any...’” (In fairness to Thelma, she usually does wear panties, but not tonight.)

They’re both pretty overheated, but Thelma doesn’t want to go back to her place until a little later, because she has “a little girl.” After some more barhopping she is falling down drunk and passes out on the way to the car. Jay loads her into the car and passes up the “golden opportunity” to rob her of what remains of her dog track winnings. Given his actions later, this seems a bit disingenuous, but maybe I’m being unfair.

He drives them both back to her place, and she awakes and invites him in. He waits on the couch while she fixes her hair and applies more makeup. She comes out wearing a full-length bathrobe, which doesn’t stay belted very long. “Her breasts were monumental, great, upthrusting melons of plump white flesh, topped by tips as purple and as large as plumbs [sic], in their erect state. Her belly was gently rounded. Her thighs were large, columnar, but gracefully tapered. She moved her hips in a rotating movement, as she then stepped forward and straddled his legs.

“’Help me! Jay, help me!’ she whispered.”

Jay “helps” her by “interlocking” and “surging” with her all night on the living room floor.

The next morning he meets Thelma’s “little girl,” Julie, who is actually a nicely-proportioned 17 year-old nympho. “The proud globes of her high, firm breasts filled the tight confines of her sweater to the bursting point. Her hips arched out in gracefully full curves from her tiny young waste.” Jay shows admirable restraint even as Julie attempts to force herself on him. “I’m not a child molester,” he insists. And, “Having an attractive body doesn’t make you an adult.” But when she hikes up her skirt to show that she, like her mother, doesn’t always wear panties, it’s more than Jay can stand, and he starts giving her the spanking she needs. “His hand rose and descended. He thwacked her bare bottom soundly, with the open palm of his hand.” When Thelma returns from her errand, or wherever she’d been, and catches them in the act, Julie plays the innocent victim, and Jay is chased out, pants around his ankles.

He heads back to the dog track and loses all but $1.50 of his money. He starts looking for work. At this point the actual story of the novel begins, and Lester Lake makes an unusual and I think dubious decision for a sleaze novel, and begins an over-40 page stretch in which no one has any sex. It takes a sort of Erskine Caldwell-meets-James M. Cain turn, and Jay gets a job doing some kind of cleaning work at a grayhound [sic] training ranch. Hey, he knows enough about greyhounds to lose his last cent betting on them, so why not work at the ranch where they’re trained?

At the Palmgreen bus stop he’s picked up by Sue Hendrix, the 21 year old daughter of the greyhound trainer. She decides right away that she likes Jay, and trusts him enough to show him her “secret place.” A place she’s never shown anyone before. Jay is too randy to get suspicious.

Her secret place is a glade with a small lake, about forty or fifty feet in diameter, and a few trees around. (It really leaps off the page, let me tell you.) They have a moment, standing in all that natural beauty, and then Sue asks him, “don’t you think a woman with a fine body is a beautiful thing? I mean, like a statue or a work of art?” When Jay agrees that he does think that, Sue goes to the other side of the pool, and removes her "Mumu". There, she strikes a series of “perfectly natural, simple art pose[s].” Eventually, watching all that “rhythmic rise and fall of her apple-shaped breasts as she breathed” gets to be too much, so he approaches and starts touching her.

“’Oh, Jay! Jay!’ she breathed. ‘I knew you’d be like this. This is love; this is purest love; this is the way it should be with a man and a woman, nothing ugly, nothing dirty.’”

Well, it gets dirty when Jay’s hands slide down below her belly and he touches her “down there.” The “Mumu” goes right back on and Sue explains (and this should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever read one of these novels before) that she’s a virgin. “You’ll have to be slow and gentle with me; patient with me.” Apparently, she’s been waiting 21 years for just the right complete stranger to come along. Again, Jay is too randy to be suspicious, but in fairness to him, he probably thought he was in a fun sex romp, not a hardboiled crime novel, which is what this book becomes. They get back into Sue’s MG and head out to the Big D Ranch where he meets the wife of the owner, Mrs Olivia Dumond.

His first look at her is from behind. She has “the most alive-looking, beautiful hair he has ever seen.” (It’s red, by the way.) When she turns around he sees that she has a “flawless complexion.” Her features are “perfect, almost classical,” “molded,” “sweeping,” “perfection,” “warm, intelligent, understanding.” The kimono (or kimona, depending on the page) she’s wearing is cut and ties so as to best display “the graceful curve of her lovely throat and the inner top slopes of milk-white mounds,” and “the large, yet perfectly proportioned flare of womanly hips.” Oh, and her voice is “husky.”

So since he’s gotten off that bus in Palmgreen Jay has met two classic female archetypes, at least in there kinds of novels, and Jay knows it: “He compared the two... Sue Hendrix was a classic in miniature; she was young, naïve, needing to be taught. Olivia Dumond was regal, Queen-sized, a fully matured, ripened, experienced love goddess.”

Olivia takes Jay around to meet the trainer, Seth (well, it actually depends on the page-- sometimes he’s referred to as “Jud”. maybe one of those is a middle name?) Hendrix, and the owner, Barney Dumond. Jay also gets a look at Paleface, Barney’s prized greyhound. Barney plans on winning a lot of money with Paleface. (It’s easy to keep track of references to Paleface, because for some reason the letters in his name are set in boldface type for the first few mentions, and then in italics through the end of the book. And he is mentioned a lot. He is important to the story.)

Later, when Seth is showing Jay his duties, he explains that Olivia Dumond is “a hundred thirty eight pounds of pure iceburg [sic] that looks like a woman. Nobody gets any of that. Not even her own husband.” Jay can’t believe a woman who looks like Olivia is frigid, but Seth insists. Jay still can’t believe it, even after Seth insists again. Seems a real shame. But Seth explains that she married Barney for his money, but now he’s almost broke, and is counting on Paleface to get that big payday for him. If Paleface doesn’t win this next big race, Olivia will probably leave him, and he’ll probably commit suicide.

Did you get that?

Seth then turns the conversation topic to his daughter, and tells Jay that he’s saved a lot of money so that he can take her to New York City to meet a nice high-society boy from a good family with lots of money. He then produces a Smith and Wesson .32 and tells Jay “You mess around with my Sue and I’ll come get this and blow a hole through the front of your face and right out the back of your head.” Jay is suitably impressed by this.

Later, Olivia confides in Jay “I’ll tell you right now that I was very strongly attracted to you, right from the first moment I saw you. But I’ve got it in control now.” She won’t cheat on Barney, and she won’t leave him, so that’s that. Unless Paleface loses his race, then Olivia will leave him. But Olivia insists that Paleface isn’t likely to lose.

Now that the setup is over, we finally get to some sex. Sue throws herself at Jay, but as he did with Julie Gray, he resists. “You crazy little bitch, leave me alone. Stop trying to get me killed!” But later that night, when she shows up in his room completely naked, it’s more than Jay can endure, and they go at it. She asks him if he wishes that he were Olivia, and Jay admits that he does, and Sue considerately tells him to pretend that she is Olivia, because it’s the closest he’ll ever get to her.

Next day Olivia and Jay pant over each other, and Olivia begs him to leave. He won’t go unless she or Barney fire him. In a nice bit of foreshadowing, she tells him: “if you don’t go, voluntarily, God damn you, you’ll be sorry; both of us will be. You’ll see.”

Three days later, “Jud [sic] Hendrix was killed.” (This book is lousy with typographical errors, misspellings, superfluous punctuation, and characters referred to by the wrong names.) Apparently, he was eaten by an alligator during a fishing accident, which is a real subtle way to go.

So Barney and Olivia go to the funeral in Daytona Beach, leaving Jay and Olivia alone in the house for two days. They have some martinis made with expensive Holland gin. They have T-bone steaks and asparagus tips. They listen to Sinatra and Gleason on the HiFi. They dance. Olivia mentions in passing that her husband is rich, sick, and old, and it would be really convenient if he died in an accident (you know, like what’s his name Seth or Jud Hendrix did). Then their lips touch, brush, and press. She takes a breath that “expanded her magnificent bosom to the full.” He unzips her vestee. He kneads “the big, firm, resilient mounds of her.” She pulls away from him and poses, just like Sue did: “She easily removed his hands from her breasts and turned, stood there for his admiration.”

They spend the night, “driv[ing] like savage animals.” Olivia tells him that oh, hey, she just thought of this plan: If someone slips Paleface a “slow pill,” he’ll lose the race, and Barney will lose a lot of money, and probably his greyhound ranch. He might commit suicide over it, but if not, someone could easily kill him and make it look like a suicide. Jay is cool to this idea, so Olivia lays it on pretty thick: “You’re personable, intelligent, handsome, and you make love like it never stops.” Jay is unswayed by her compliments, and tells her to just forget it.

Olivia spends the next few days pouting and challenging Jay’s manhood. Sue, who seems to know that Olivia and Jay spent a night together gets in on the torture, setting up the best paragraph in the book:

“Each evening, Sue insisted on modeling for him and Livvy, after Barney Dumond went down to his office for his nightly drunk, the clothes she had purchased that day. The worst part of this was that when it came to the underthings and pajamas and nightgowns, Sue had insisted on buying a duplicate for Livvy, in her size. She insisted that they both model these garments for Forbes.”

Eventually, the “woman-wanting” gets to be too much, and Jay’s resolve melts. He agrees to go forward with Olivia’s insane plan. Just before the big race, Jay slips Paleface the “slow pill,” and Paleface loses the race badly. Then at about one AM, Jay sneaks out of his window and into Barney’s office, where he finds Barney slumped over at his desk, an empty Fifth of Brandy at his fingertips. Jay forces Barney’s fingers around the gun handle, puts the barrel to Barney’s temple, and pulls the trigger.

The next day the police haul Jay in for questioning. Sheriff Valentine (sometimes referred to as “Sheriff Dumond”) explains that Olivia and Sue blew Jay’s alibi, by telling them that right after they heard the gunshot at about 1:15 AM, they went to check on Jay, and found his room empty. At this point Jay starts to realize he’s been played, and spills everything. We then learn of a surprising coincidence: The sheriff explains that Jay isn’t guilty of murder, since Barney had already died of a heart attack before Jay put the gun to his head. While conspiracy to commit murder and desecration of a corpse are illegal, they’re not nearly as bad as murder.

SPOILER ALERT: Don’t keep reading if you don’t want to know how this exciting book ends.

In a twist that will come as a surprise only to those who didn’t read the copy on the cover of the book, Olivia and Sue turn out to be Lesbians who hatched this murder plot long ago. Olivia knew that Jay would be the perfect fall guy because, “He looked at me like a starving man would look at a feast.” Olivia then reveals the source of her murderous rage: Low self-esteem. “That’s how stupid he is-- all men are. To think that a big, ugly horse like me, could be really beautiful. They don’t realize that true female beauty has to be small, delicate, maybe even fragile. Like you, Sue. You are real beauty, so tiny, so doll-like. Stupid men seem to think it’s quantity not the quality of a woman’s flesh that counts. But, then, they don’t know what real love is anyhow.”

At this point, of course, the sensitive reader is hoping they get away and Olivia goes to a good psychiatrist who can help her to feel better about herself, but the police swoop in and raid Sue’s “secret place,” just as Sue begins her ridiculous art poses. The book ends with Sheriff Valentine spitting, like he’s got a bad taste in his mouth.

“I Want You” switches gears faster than a meth-addled truck driver who needs to pee, moving from Dell Holland type sex romp to Harry Whittington type noir halfway through. There’s too much story, not enough pressing and mound-kneading. Honestly, if I wanted a crime novel I’d pick up something by Day Keene. Two stars.

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