After all that highbrow stuff I thought it was time for something decidedly trashy. At first glance it would be harder to get trashier than Irving Wallace – take a look at that picture of The Fan Club and you’ll see what I mean.
But actually, Wallace is kind of dull. This is the odd part about trash – a lot of it isn’t nearly as trashy as it could be, or should be. People really need to get their priorities straight: nobody wants to read something like The Chapman Report to really learn about the academic study of sex. People want to read these things for the lurid details.
That seems painfully obvious to me, although somehow people have missed it along the way. I think there are aspirational issues here: nobody wants to be the sordid smut purveyor, apparently. Even though he provides a humble but real service, while the boring guy trying to make something more out of it is just, well, boring.
I picked four novels from him: somehow it’s impossible to find a copy of The Seven Minutes cheaply, or I would’ve picked that up, too. I think I hit the high spots: Wallace’s dalliances with pre Dan Brown Christian Conspiracies in The Word didn’t interest me, nor his attempt to hook up to the Watergate Conspiracy bandwagon with The R Document. I have fond memories of The Second Lady, which I read when I was an impressionable teenager – it’s a ridiculous spy story where the First Lady is replaced by the Commies with her identical copy, and features a lot of First Lady sex. Probably best that be left a hazy, warm memory, though. After Barbara Bush, no one wants to think about that.
The Chapman Report is roughly based on Kinsey: a sex researcher (or sexologist or whatever ridiculous term they’ve coined for themselves nowadays) goes to an American suburban town to report on what the housewives are doing behind closed doors. Much talk talk talktalktalktalk. Not enough sex. A touchingly naïve belief in the therapeutic power of The Orgasm in between all the talktalktalktalktalk. Really dull.
The Prize – A bunch of ridiculously hot-to-trot Nobel Prize winners have a bunch of ridiculous adventures prior to claiming their prize. Absurd premise might be fun, but it's weighed down with a lot of dreary lectures describing the history of a prize nobody gives a shit about anymore. Avoid.
The Man – through a miracle of screwed-uppedness, somehow an African-American becomes President. Enormous bestseller is truly a case for the existence of God, as it would not have been nearly so successful if it hadn’t appeared in 1964, at the height of the Civil Rights era. I rather like Drury’s Advise and Consent, but he has a lot to answer for, as his novel inspired a ton of dull imitators, including this one. And at least Drury understood Washington, whereas I have no feeling Wallace does.
The Fan Club – This was the most interesting of the batch Its also not a very good book, but I’ll explain why it’s interesting before I explain why it’s not very good.
The novel details a plan by four “average American males” to kidnap and repeatedly force their attentions on a sexpot movie actress who they all idealize. They actually accomplish their aims, and the rest of the book describes the mind games the woman plays with the men and vice versa., before she finally escapes.
This is actually a very interesting idea, and in the hands of the right writer – I’m thinking Hollenbecq – one could use it to have a lot to say about masculinity in the post-Sixties age, the was sex has become commodified, the morality of love, inequities, etc. Tart it up a bit – make her a porno actress, say – and you can imagine Martin Amis giving it a go, too.
Unfortunately there’s a lot lacking in the execution. The men are a little too obviously types. Wallace indulges repeatedly in his unfortunate penchant for speechifying. The book resolves itself into a standard genre thriller, in the most banal kind of way, whereas the setup cries out for a heavy French “Eeet is soo meaningless” kind of vibe.
So not good either. But somebody should take another crack at this idea.
Here's the wiki on Wallace:
Dig that cover for Fan Club reproduced there. You want to know what the Seventies were all about in publishing? That's what it was.
Here's the kirjasto piece, rather more literate, although rather more kind than Wallace than probably makes sense:
You can also see Wallace's grave online somewhere, although my slow connection can't load it properly.