Robert Bloch's "The Miracle of Ronald Weems" was the third lead novella in a row (one more would follow) by Bloch in an issue of the new magazine Imaginative Tales, and the first new one (the first was a reprint, retitled, from a 1950 issue of Fantastic Adventures; the second, "Mr. Margate's Mermaid," a reconfiguration of two shorter stories Bloch had placed with Weird Tales in 1942). Since original publication, I'm aware of only two reprints, in David Schow's collection The Lost Bloch, Volume 2: Hell on Earth (Subterranean Press, 2000) and by Pulpville Press, in a 2006 double-novel format with that fourth issue novella "The Big Binge"...Imaginative Tales had been launched as a fantasy magazine meant to feature Thorne Smith-style mildly ribald farcical tales, and Bloch delivers what is asked for, though in this example a strong dose of Damon Runyon is added.
Ronald Weems has not quite enjoyed an uneventful life, having been raised by puritanical maiden aunts and having spent the years since their deaths working, somewhat improbably, in the women's intimate-wear section of a department store. He has a crush on a toy clerk named Amy, an incompetent, blustering bully manager in women's wear named Bickerstaff, and the responsibility of helping make a success of a lingerie show at the store, featuring a young and still rather obscure film starlet, services rented for the occasion, who works as Laura Lee. Through misadventure, Weems finds himself the owner of a children's chemical set, mostly to help Amy out of a jam, and, after the lingerie show goes badly and Weems is fired, he discovers that Amy has a man already in her life. Depressed, he considers suicide by mixing chemicals randomly in hopes of creating an effective poison...instead, he accidentally creates an elixir that temporarily gives him powers of levitation and telekinesis...though he has to be mildly drunk, as well. Further misadventure puts Weems and Laura Lee into each other's orbits in multiple ways over the next couple of days, facing one sort of threat after another, not least from local gangster Ace Diamond, who wants money from Lee and criminal aid from Weems. Beyond what they endure together, Lee and Weems manage to get along rather well, in the manner of one kind of romantic farce, and the ending suggests that perhaps some of the effects of Weems's compounding aren't so temporary.
Bloch by 1955 was an old hand at this kind of narrative, and is clearly having some fun all the way through this story, as bouyant as Weems is at full power, and seemingly enjoying let the narrative spin out as it more or less plausibly might, given Laura Lee is both good-natured and mildly bohemian, and willing to take on her brave if innocent, sheltered eventual swain as they scrape through one farcical, if usually also dangerous, twist after another. As with the Lefty Feep stories and others for Fantastic Adventures, and to some extent his other humorous fantasies for magazines such as Weird Tales and Unknown, the puns, the comedy of humors names for supporting characters, and generally good-natured play help keep this from being in any way profound, but also consistently engagingly readable. Aside from the criminal element being relatively quick-thinking and quick-talking, as well as more dangerous than might be expected in a farce, a couple of them engage in the kind of slightly convoluted patois that makes the debt to Runyon mentioned above fairly obvious...if you took Smith, Runyon and Robert Benchley together and convinced them to write a romantic caper-fantasy, this could well've been the result. The grimmer humor shot through, or added lightly to, much of his horror and crime fiction, and nearly all his more seriously-intended science fiction (he wrote sfnal farce, as well), is less in evidence here, but it's very much of a piece with those works, or the humorous tone of many of his critical essays and fannish-press writing...or his public speaking, as he had toyed at one time with the notion of becoming a stand-up comedian.
I'll be posting some reviews of some of Bloch's more serious and ambitious writing over the next week, as we run up to and past the 5 April 100th anniversary of his birth. For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog. And here's a bit of a Robert Bloch index post for Sweet Freedom...