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THESE ARE high times to celebrate satire. And in fact there’s a specialized branch of this genre: satirical novels. Taken one step further, there are satirical novels that satirize the novelistic process itself.
You might think I’m slicing this literary criticism awfully thin. But, indeed, four such spoofs come to mind, each written not by a single author, but by several people masquerading as one.
Here, in two parts, today and tomorrow, are my minireviews of these books. By the way, SimanaitisSays is only one person, despite website developers asking me to “pass this opportunity along to the appropriate member of your staff.”
I, Libertine originated when late-night radio satirist extraordinaire Jean Shepherd urged his listeners to go to their neighborhood bookstores and ask for a book that didn’t exist. He offered a basic historical romance plot and his listeners did the rest. Before long, the non-existing I, Libertine made The New York Times Best Seller list.
Word got around that Frederick R. Ewing’s I, Libertine had been banned in Boston. This encouraged Shepherd, publisher Ian Ballantine and novelist Theodore Sturgeon to create the book. Sturgeon wrote most of it based on Shepherd’s outline, the latter based on a real-life 18th-century British piece of work named Elizabeth Chudleigh (whose name couldn’t be better). Ian’s wife Betty completed the final chapter, it’s said, after Sturgeon fell exhausted asleep trying to meet a deadline.
On September 13, 1956, I, Libertine appeared in both hardcover and paperback editions, already recognized as a spoof. Its proceeds were donated to charity. Today, the book is rare and not inexpensive.
Naked Came the Stranger arose in the wild and sexy Sixties, when Jacqueline Susann wrote Valley of the Dolls, prompting either Truman Capote or Gore Vidal to say that’s not writing, it’s typing.
Whichever, Newsday columnist Mike McGrady recruited 24 colleagues, nineteen men, five women, to contribute chapters for a novel following two principles: “There will be an unremitting emphasis on sex. Also, true excellence in writing will be quickly blue-penciled into oblivion.”
The purported author is Penelope Ashe, whose presence for photos and meetings was masqueraded by Billie Young, McGrady’s sister-in-law. The book’s cover photo was filched from a Hungarian nudist magazine; in time, the model and photographer demanded and received payment.
The Washington Post reported, “Mr. McGrady and the other writers had nothing to do with a hardcore 1975 film with the same title. They did, however, see the movie at a Times Square theater.” During one particularly explicit scene, someone shouted ‘Author! Author!’ and seventeen of them stood up.
Tomorrow I’ll review Naked Came the Manatee and Atlanta Nights. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017