So the mind having boggled a while, here’s what I know:
Donald Westlake published a novella entitled Call Me A Cab in Redbook, which is not particularly known for crime fiction, comic or otherwise. Which makes a certain measure of sense, since all indicators are this book isn’t crime fiction, has a female protagonist, and is in essence a romantic comedy with an adventure angle to it, or misadventure, if you prefer.
This was the June 1979 issue, seen above, also featuring a Sally Field interview where she apparently talked about her burgeoning romance with Burt, and why she didn’t play aviatrix nuns anymore. Unless there are Westlake collectors far more obsessive than me, which is doubtful, my guess is that other piece is why I can’t order a used copy online. I don’t like you, Sally. I really don’t like you. (Oh, of course I’m kidding, loved you in Lincoln.)
Based on the minimal data available, that may be a truncated version of a novel he wrote but couldn’t find a publisher for. Or the novel we’re going to be reading in the near future (I don’t know how near, naturally, because nobody tells me anything) is an expansion of the novella, because he got good feedback from the Redbook readership. (Not like any lit critics would have opined.) Or he may have begun it as a film treatment/script that never became a film, and that was an old story for him by then. One thing I can say for sure is that the estimable Sweet Freedom blog got the issue and cover wrong. Like I’m in any position to judge, since I didn’t even know this story existed.
Westlake didn’t write a lot of books with female protagonists for most of his career, though during his several sordid seasons in the seamy steamy cellars of Sleaze, he wrote quite a few, and I know of one that featured a peripatetic heroine on a road trip with a clueless male hitchhiker she eventually falls for, but I would not call that romantic comedy, since Westlake had to write a moderately explicit sex scene between her and some random dude (and one dudette) into every other chapter, and only the final one was with the hitchhiker (and much less raunchy), because that’s the form. You keep fucking away until you find The One, or you end up back with the guy you started with. Or you die some horrible death, but this one wasn’t written in the Pseudo-Dreiserian/Flaubertian vein. (And it’s not misogynist at all, believe it or not. It’s looking at the problem of sex from a female POV, and that POV is absolutely scathing about the masculine attitude towards coitus.)
Westlake wrote rather well for women, and rather empathically. He went out of his way to see things from a woman’s POV, even when it was just a supporting character, so this was nothing new for him. It was just harder for him to write the kind of story people wanted from him if the protagonist was female (and, of course, cute). The engine gears would keep turning energetically, but they weren’t hooked up to the wheels of the getaway car. He knew what to say, not how to say it.
He did better writing about female criminals, because a crook’s a crook, right? The reason crime fiction was so right for him was that he needed a genre where nothing was off the table. Where “do what thou wilt’ was literally the whole of the law. Then he could just let his girls have fun, same as the boys.
But he always wanted to expand the list of options open to him as a writer. Almost exactly ten years after the Redbook novella, he had one major success in this arena–Trust Me On This. Where a pretty blonde journalist working for a supermarket scandal sheet discovers both the best and worst of herself while doing so, and her co-protagonist discovers to his horror that he’s in love with her, and it sort of works out, but there’s this delicious air of moral ambiguity about the entire exercise, to the point where you literally don’t know who or what to root for, so you just root for the book to never end.
Is this as good as that? I’m thinking if it was, would have gotten published before now, but the proof is in the reading.
So Mr. Ardai–any news?
11 responses to “Redbook, Bluebook, Oldbook, Newbook?”
Pub date is February 1, 2022. And it’s good, crime or no crime.
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It’s coming out on 2/1/22 and I think you’ll like it.
I dig nearly everything he ever published.
I don’t dig it all equally.
There are always going to be sly bits of social observation, fine farcical interchanges, and he certainly knew how to write the boy/girl thing. But how it all hangs together–that’s another matter. I want all of it available, even the sleaze (and I wish the people reprinting the sleazes as ebooks would devote as much care to proofreading as those fly-by-night smut peddlers did–the latest crop of ebooks are shamefully shoddy when it comes to reproducing Mr. Westlake’s pseudo-porn.)
It never pays to build yourself up into a tizzy about a coming release, book, film, whatever. Just take it as a given I’m reading it, and would not object to an advance copy. I am, after all, The Westlake Reviewer. I’ve moved a fair bit of product for Hard Case. They could move a little my way. (And they could have shot me an email. I’m just saying. Oh never mind.)
I just saw this on Amazon, and came here to see if anyone knew anything.
Looking forward both to reading it and to seeing what you think. And I agree about keeping expectations under control, but the posthumous books have all been up to snuff.
My question is, did this novel need any work? Was it completely finished by Westlake himself, as was the case with Memory? Or mostly, as was the case with The Comedy is Finished? Or was it a real fixer-upper, as was the case with Forever and a Death? There’s a finished novella that saw publication. The novel’s provenance is a bit foggier, at least for me. And to review it, I want to know all I can about it first. But sometimes you learn as you go, as was the case with The Comedy is Finished.
Anyway, at least the book won’t be full of absurd typographical errors from a slipshod ebook publisher, as was the case with the Westlake sleazes I read on my summer vacation.
Charles Ardai gave me some deets–the Redbook novella is basically him selling a completed first draft to them, and them doing the Reader’s Digest thing on it, stripping away everything not absolutely essential. He says don’t feel bad if you can’t read it. With Westlake (as opposed to Stark), the inessentials are often the best part.
But Westlake then wrote a significantly longer second draft. What you’ll be reading in a few months mainly follows expanded version, but not in all respects, because after all, Westlake never did commit to getting the second draft published in book form either. So it’s 100% written by him, but posthumously edited to get to the best possible version, given the author’s absence.
So we know that much.
Mr. Ardai did a fine job editing FaaD, smoothing over some of the rougher edges. There are some excisions I miss (one pretty deeply), but I certainly trust the manuscript in his hands. Of course, ideally, we’d get everything, all the drafts. Of everything.
Ideally, yes. In actuality, probably not in our lifetimes. But Ardai does a fine afterward, in which he explains the differences between the various versions–Westlake himself seems to have wavered a bit about the last part of the book (landings are always a bitch, as any gymnast can tell you), and Ardai had to pick one. This is all rather fitting, since in many ways it’s a book about the joys of indecision.
I would definitely have to rank this one above Forever and a Death. Both books have a certain travelogue aspect to them, but in this case that’s the whole point of the endeavor (as opposed to revising Bond), so there was no need to cut any of it out. Two people discovering America, and themselves. It works. How well is a subject I can tackle after my second read (and after the book is published).
But give me a bit of time, and I’ll hammer out one of those pre-review reviews I do sometimes.
And one more thing–the first person narrator is the cab driver. I would say he and the female fare he shuttles cross-country are co-protagonists. But we learn about her through him. It’s her journey, more than his, since she’s the one with a life-altering decision to make, and the trip is her choice, not his. But as with Up Your Banners, he’s learning about himself, while he’s telling us about this woman. She speaks for herself, but he’s transcribing.
I mean, David Copperfield literally doesn’t know if he’s the hero of his story (my vote is for Micawber). I would argue this guy doesn’t really care if he’s the hero or not, which is why he’s the right person to tell us this story.
Speaking of proofreading, maybe ten years ago, I was reading a lot of Hard Case Crime books and I was annoyed at the numerous typos I saw. As I recall, they were mostly in the reprints (things like commas for periods, which can happen in scanning/converting pages) and not the present-day manuscripts. Assuming HCC was a fairly small outfit, I thought I would email and volunteer my services at a greatly-reduced rate (or be paid in books!), but I never did. . . . I read the sample chapter of Call Me A Cab and it’s a great premise. Looking forward to this one.
In Parker-ese, they’re basically a crew living under the shadow of an outfit. I haven’t seen a lot of typos in their books, but noted a fair few in U. of Chicago editions of the Parker novels–a different kind of outfit. I think there’s a bit less money for serious proof-reading now–or maybe nobody wants to be a proofreader anymore. I will say, in my older Westlake editions, whether it’s Random House or Pocket Books, nary a typo do I ever detect. Not even in old sleaze paperbacks. Computers don’t love words the way we do, so they don’t care if they get them right or not.