Friday, December 21, 2018

FFM/S: "The Faithless", a novella by John D. MacDonald, plus stories by James McKimmey, Jr. et al.: REDBOOK, May 1958, fiction editor: Lilian Kastendike; editor and publisher, Wade H. Nichols

Redbook. May 1958 at
John D. MacDonald's "The Faithless" was the original title, as Steve Scott notes in his extensive take in his JDM blog, on the novel as first published by Dell in 1958 as The Deceivers, the original manuscript of which, Scott suspects, included some of the material in this Redbook  magazine version published at about the same time missing from the paperback original's text. Redbook, in 1958, subtitled itself "The Magazine for Young Adults", sexually egalitarian, but perhaps a bit ageist. If published a quarter-century later, it might've been seen as a magazine for Yuppies, only in 1958, only the man of a given heterosexual couple was expected to be professional in any urban way, the woman a professional suburban homemaker and caretaker of the Next Generation. Meanwhile, aside from small abridgment tweaks in the narrative, the more basic differences between the novel and the novella, Scott suggests, might've been driven by the Dell editor's (Knox Burger?) cutting; unlike the novel form, the novella has never been reprinted, as far as I can tell. Not too sure if any of the short stories by James McKimmey, Jr. (another notable crime fiction writer of the latter '50s and later, and clearly meant to be Writing for Men here)(I like how the other men and particularly the  one woman in the illustration look only mildly put out or puzzled by the man brandishing a gun), Gloria Amoury, Jean Z. Owen, John Reese (another prolific writer) or John Savage were ever reprinted, either.
I've not yet read The Deceivers, so I trust Scott's extensive summary and analysis of the book version to be accurate, given his love of the subject of his blog, the fiction of MacDonald and related matters, and congruity with the events of the novella; as Scott notes, the novella begins with action about to be taken which will begin to set matters right that are apparently left hanging at the end of the novel as published. A troubled but devoted married couple are about to take a road trip, we learn, to help settle in court some matters of custody involving the children of their neighbors. We then flash back to earlier times, where a slightly older married couple and a younger one, Joan and Carl Garrett, in their early 40s, and the latter-20s Cindy and Bucky Cable, not only live in adjoining houses in their suburban town but have become fast friends. Carl, the protagonist, and Cindy are somewhat similar in being mildly intellectual non-conformists; Joan and Bucky are somewhat less prone to wordplay and ironic distance from what's expected of a married upper middle-class couple. Carl and Cindy are also a bit more dissatisfied with their lives than Joan or Bucky choose to be. And Joan is about to go in for surgery, the removal of uterine fibroids, which will keep her in the hospital for about a week; Joan and Carl's two teenage kids are just off to summer camp, while Cindy and Bucky's two younger children are spending a chunk of the summer with Bucky's parents. Carl is more worried about the surgery than he realizes, and in the course of visiting with Cindy over the first two nights when he wanders out of his empty house, he learns Cindy is acutely aware that Bucky, out on a long business trip, has been dallying outside their marriage, multiple times, and Cindy has resolved to confront him about it...but she sees no joy in any of the probable outcomes. Already a bit attracted to each other beyond friendship, with his wife's possible death and her grim Acceptance or divorce hanging over their heads, Cindy and Carl fall into each other's arms, pull back, but eventually find their way into a motel-room tryst. Most of the novella is devoted to their attempts to decide exactly what they are doing, whether it's a life-changing affair or simply the expression of mutual need they can explore and put behind them, or just the kind  of cheap and empty betrayal neither one wants to believe they are capable of but both fear is what it is, and how they square that with the observations of those around them in the community, and what they tell or don't tell their indisposed spouses.

Despite being friends and not altogether unnatural lovers, Carl and Cindy are often just a little off-kilter with each other in their discussions of what they're doing and what comes next; Cindy is slightly more romantic as well as younger and a wronged spouse, and alternates between hoping Carl will leave Joan for her and earnestly asking forgiveness for wanting such a thing; Carl can't help but acknowledge to himself how Cindy provides certain attractions that Joan can't match, but the stability and respectability of their marriage aren't the only reasons he doesn't want to leave his wife (and he's all too aware he's the  spouse in the wrong in his relation), even given the degree to which his and Joan's lives have lost youthful thrill in favor of comfortable domesticity. MacDonald doesn't let this devolve into soap, through the wit and the relative seriousness with which the trysting couple try to work out their feelings and aspirations, obligations and desires. Scott notes that this was a novella/novel of manners very much by MacDonald's intent, following as it did his crime novel The Executioners, with a devoted marriage and searching questions of ethics and morality at the core of that one (still my favorite MacDonald novel, and dumbed down considerably for both the film adaptations Cape Fear), and The Faithless/The Deceivers in its structure and plot seeming to attempt to improve on his earlier novel of adultery, Cancel All Our Vows. As Scott doesn't note, there's even a metafictional in-joke, at least in the novella, where Cindy is reading a disappointing attempt at a serious novel about marriage and affairs in suburbia that sounds, as she describes it, as if it has the same flaws that Scott and presumably MacDonald found in Cancel...

Things don't go so well for anyone from this point onward in the novella, as Cindy and Carl do better and worse at hiding their affair and dealing with rest of their community, including Carl's business associates and Joan's friends (as well as the trysters') and acquaintances, but things are worked out mostly believably and sensibly and with not too much melodrama; while the lovers are all too aware of their intermittent self-justification and self-loathing, the characters here don't quite pontificate to the degree that "Rotarian Hippy" Travis McGee soon will in his novel series, and only two characters in the cast come close to being purely caddish, and even their behavior can be understood. It's a fine story as presented, and since it offers a bit of resolution the novel version doesn't (and is probably artistically stronger for that in that regard; Scott seems to think so), it's eminently worth reading. I'll be seeking out the novel, as well (it's notable that while the embraces and kisses are described elegantly and sometimes in telling physical detail in the magazine version, some of the more descriptive sexual passages are reserved for the book's text). Scott notes that Carl Garrett and his life more closely parallel MacDonald's own than any other character in a JDM novel, but that doesn't point to MacDonald having had an adulterous affair; I suspect Scott's correct, just as MacDonald and his wife probably never had to proactively try to kill a miscreant in self-defense (and we're back to The Executioners).
"A Remarkable Woman" by old hand John Reese is almost but not quite as condescending in its fictional compass as the lead "nonfiction" article in the issue, "What Husbands Must Understand About Their Wives", in the latter's supposedly objectively gynecological and psychological/sociological realm. Both story and "service" article, though, help to suggest that even the mooted notions in the MacDonald story--that the cheated-on and roughed-up Cindy might have a moderately serious psychological problem while her arrogant and physically abusive husband was simply the result of indulgent parents (particularly Mom) and otherwise is a healthy boy--are still indicative of a rather more enlightened view than that taken by the more grey-bearded male contributors to this issue. A young male insurance investigator is bound and determined to shake the story as told by a very young widow of an old retired military man and his untimely death...incomplete because, as becomes clear, she wants to shield her stepsons, the late husband's teen sons, from the reality that he was physically abusive to both his wives. At least no one is shrugging off spousal abuse in this story (albeit those who do so in the MacDonald are basically clueless), but the unjustifiable paternalism running throughout this short probably felt even a bit old-school in 1958. As with the other illustration in the issue, a rather handsome job, in this case by Walter Skob. 

"One Girl, Two Proposals"  by another veteran writer, Jean Z. Owen, is deftly arch enough to make Fredric Brown (when in that mode) proud, and in its gentle mockery of the trope of emotionally clueless young man of science falling for the wily if flighty young woman who works with him, has a certain charm that its rather broad winking doesn't tarnish. I mildly enjoyed this kind of farce in such films as What's Up, Doc? and Don't Make Waves as a youngster, and continued to mildly enjoy it when examples as light and fluffy as this one would pop up in the fiction magazines I've been reading over the decades. And this one provides 1958 couture tips en passant. What more could a girl want?

While the McKimmey story is pitched at teen boys harder than it is at men...reads almost like a reject from Boy's Life,  with its hopped up stick-up artist threatening the drugstore under the temporary management of a 16yo high-school student...and the teen's quick thinking in vetoing use of a war-trophy pistol to try to get the robber to back down.

Jon Savage's vignette "Sister Act" is a smug little confection, wherein two women, one in her late twenties and the other 22, have a long, declamatory conversation about marriage; the free-spirit younger sister chooses to chat up her harried wife-and-mother big sis. Entirely too stiffly ersatz, and in a few hundred words, manages to devolve into the middling-to-poor sort of soap opera MacDonald avoids. 

In contrast, Gloria Amoury's "A Dog in the House" is a rather moving account of a small family from Syria, the woman and  their young son rather adrift and not yet able to speak English beyond a few words and phrases, the man an MD on a fellowship with a New York hospital, and how the son's impulsive rescue of a small dog shakes up the family dynamic in a number of ways. (I wasn't aware of a certain hostility toward the the concept of an indoor dog in at least part of the Arab world, as credibly posited here.) Certainly the most overtly feminist story in the issue, and second only to the MacDonald in overall quality. 

Certainly Kurt Vonnegut's suggestion that all it took to write for the slicks in the 1950s was to put together a good sentence and to celebrate the middle classes seems reflected by the magazine's fiction (and other) content as a whole...but the greater seriousness, particularly during and after World War 2, that crept into those aimed at women, particularly, and the broader range of acceptable themes and incidents, as noted by Wilma Shore in the mid 1940s, is also notable. 

For more of today's books (and perhaps other magazines), please see Patti Abbott's blog.


George said...

Back in the 1970s, I binged on John D. MacDonald and James McKimmey paperbacks. Those guys knew how to write!

Todd Mason said...

As you might gather, MacDonald demonstrates this rather more than McKimmey in this issue's fiction.

Jack Seabrook said...

Todd, there's a site that has all of the old issues of Good Housekeeping online and they are searchable. Lots of good fiction there. I can send you the link if you don't have it already.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks! I believe I have looked at that site (having read and linked to it for some of the Wilmas Shore fiction I reviewed earlier), but feel free to send it along...I may've been linking to another one...mine's set up at Cornell.

Wilma Shore, fiction and more