The Lonely Lady, Harold Robbins, 1977

Smut King Goes Faux-Feminist

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Spoilers ahead.

Harold Robbins is the one best selling author whose novels are closest to straight-up pornography without actually belonging to that genre. His later day novels tended to become increasingly formulaic with their down-on-his-luck-guy-makes-good premises thus The Lonely Lady makes a somewhat curious exception as the main protagonist here is a female, an ambitious but troubled writer Jerilee Randall who tries to make a career for herself in New York theatre world and Hollywood.

In contrary to Robbins’ male heroes who start in a rut but thing gets gradually better after that in their chosen line of business (writer, men’s magazine editor, sexy lingerie manufacturer etc.) Jerilee starts as a small town girl who becomes a trophy wife of wealthy novelist, whom she divorces, but whilst trying to make it on her own she faces evermore devastating setbacks, in no small part because of her tendency to rely on all the wrong people and make the stupidest of choices. The reader gets to follow as Jerilee goes through series of ill-advised professional and/or sexual relationships with a string of men -and women- which transforms her from mentioned trophy wife to a failing play writer, go-go dancer, porn actress, prostitute and drug-ravaged mental ward patient. She does eventually bounce back and makes a name as an novelist with her book, aptly titled Good Girls Go to Hell, which sees her being nominated for Academy Awards for the best script. But her triumph is a pyrrhic victory as on the moment of her greatest glory she decides to throw it all away to protest the exploitation that women face in a show business.

Regardless what the latter sounds, make no mistake, Lonely Lady is no more a feminist book than Gone With The Wind is anti-slavery, it only seems as if Robbins wanted a somewhat respectable disguise for his usual raunch-fest by taking the “victim’s”, the female’s point of view. However, Lonely Lady is, as far as I know, the closest thing Robbins became to make an artistic statement and there is some downbeat, been-there-done-that authenticity to be sensed in Jerilee’s failures and creative dead ends. The book also provides a portrait of an cultural climate change of 1960’s and 1970’s United States as Jerilee moves from champagne cocktail sipping member of New York’s high society to a beatnik playwriter and a B-movie actress and further to an barbiturate devouring wreck in cheap porn studios. Unfortunately she does not make particularly layered or occasionally not even sympathetic heroine and reader is not given much explanation what has brought upon her inner demons apart of her clichéd, oppressive small town upbringing. It is not until final pages that we learn that the true source of misery is –surprise- her unkind and uncaring mother.

In 1983 The Lonely Lady was made to a movie of the same name which nowadays is widely regarded as one the all time turkeys starring an equally reviled early eighties starlet Pia Zadora as Jerilee.

The Deep, Peter Benchley, 1976

Sanders Couple has an Activity Holiday

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The Deep is the second book by Peter Benchley (1940-2006) after the blockbuster and pop culture touchstone Jaws. I have never read -or seen- Jaws so I cannot judge if he sunk into a sophomore slump or not, but The Deep has a feel that appears both easy-going and forced at once. The main characters are David and Gail Sanders, a relatively newly wed sporty couple, who have decided to spend their vacation in the Bermudas, scuba diving at the wreck site of ill-fated WWII military supply ship Goliath. They have no mercenary intentions although the vessel was fabled to transport thousands of ampules of morphine for wartime medical needs. They immediately attract the unwanted attention from a local potentate Henri Cloche, a drug kingpin with political ambitions, who wants to use the two to surface the stash of morphine for him. Stakes get even higher when David and Gail find out that Goliath is lying on top of an earlier wreck, 17th-century Spanish gold ship. Fortunately, they find an ally in Treece, a rough and slightly eccentric lighthouse keeper.

Although The Deep is very informative about how a seemingly effortless dive of only a few feets can become fatal if one does not know what he/she is doing, there is no real sense of danger in this book. Outwardly suave Cloche is not particularly memorable or innovative villain with his usage of voodoo shenanigans as a scare tactic and the Sanders’ are also little on the forgettable side although deeper (no pun intended) characters than in the 1977 movie version by Columbia Pictures. All this makes the abrupt and violent ending, which differs from the movie, feel like an afterthought.

However, The Deep remains smooth entertainment; Benchley’s strong love of sea shines through every page, scenery and locales are colorful and richly described and as a former journalist, Benchley always uploaded his books with interesting nuggets; like the difference between morphine and heroin, what is fire coral, why Spaniards preferred emeralds instead rubies and how to figure out toxicity of a fish before eating with a silver coin.