Thursday, April 9, 2009
Friday's "Forgotten" Short Fiction: Donald Westlake's "Call Me a Cab" and "Down Will Come Baby" by Jody Scott
Ms. Jody Scott: "Down Will Come Baby" Escapade magazine, July 1968
Mr. Donald Westlake: "Call Me a Cab" Redbook magazine, June 1978
We have here two unreprinted shorter works, as far as I can tell...and I have no good idea why they weren't ever given another shot at finding their audiences. The Scott is cut down from her first novel to about a 40K-word novella, edited into its current form by Escapade editor Barry Malzberg in a marathon session that, if I remember correctly, halved its length (and was so down to the wire that the paste-up manages to repeat a few paragraphs and puts a page or so slightly out of order). It's still a compelling, possibly somewhat autobiographical account of a young woman, unwilling to fit anyone else's expectations of what her behavior or aspirations should be, but not any less insecure for that, and with a keen sense for what sort of bullshitters of all stripes (student radicals, burnouts, artists, businesspeople, et al.) surround her on and around the Berkeley campus on the cusp of the repression of the Free Speech Movement and what followed. Having such a keen sense doesn't keep her from falling for a bullshitter or two, mind you. None of the adorableness of The Catcher in the Rye, much less The Strawberry Statement, here...a lot of the people around her are playing for high stakes, and usually not fairly...even when the stakes involve putting up with them till one's soul shrivels. And there's no stalking away in morally superior dudgeon, either, for her...there is realization of the kinds of compromises we all make with each other, institutions, life.
Jody Scott sporadically published further fiction, including two novels released in book form...Malzberg recommends them here, from a column of "forgotten" and curious items in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Westlake makes notably much of how similar to the point of identical Holiday Inns in the late '70s were to each other, so I have to wonder if this not altogether flattering product placement (it never occurs to them to stop at a Ramada nor a Quality Inn) wasn't a means of ensuring a roadtrip by Westlake might be written off taxwise as research. But, as I mentioned, it's a charming story, with only one brief bit of too-cute comedy that Westlake occasionally indulged in in his early work, the rest up to his usual standards of amused, sharp observation.
Perhaps Westlake thought his "novel" (as Redbook calls it) was too explicitly tailored to a romance-oriented audience, or perhaps he thought he might expand it further (though it's hard to see how it would profitably go beyond the 25K words or so of its current novelet state), or just wouldn't fit in among his more criminous short fiction in his relatively few collections. [Late bulletin (2012): Apparently, Westlake wrote this one up as a filmscript or at least as a treatment, and there might well be an actual novel-length manuscript version among his papers, as well.]
They are both awaiting rediscovery...the woman writer's sharply critical condemnation of human exploitation in a men's skin magazine (albeit a sophisticated one), and the man's slightly but not altogether more muted tribute to untraditional values and feminist and pro-feminist masculist aspiration in a fairly traditional women's domestic-life magazine (albeit one with a proud and, for at least some years further, sustained tradition of offering fiction, including ambitious fiction, long after most of the competition had dropped same. Albeit a "novel" as long as Westlake's, even when written by a writer of his stature, was presented in microprint in the back pages of the issue.)
You could do much worse.
See Patti Abbott's blog for links to other "forgotten stories" for this week. And thanks to Barry and Joe for letting me among others know of the existence of these stories, and providing copies of them.