Fire Island, by Burt Hirschfeld
Avon Books, 1970
That novel, at last!
So proclaims the cover of one of the many mass market paperback incarnations of Burt Hirschfeld's now-forgotten 1970 blockbuster Fire Island. And that blurb isn't far off the mark; this is a true piece of Glorious Trash, a novel so designed to capitalize on the take-a-novel-to-the-beach market that it's actually about people going to the beach.
For a brief time last year I was obsessed with Burt Hirschfeld. I discovered him via the usual means; happening across one of his novels (Cindy On Fire, an indirect sequel to Fire Island) in the paperback section of a used bookstore. I bought the book because it promised all sorts of sordid fun: drugs, psychedelia, sex. (These are the things I demand in my trash fiction.) I looked up this author whom I'd never before heard of, only to discover that he'd published a plethora of novels over the years, all of them paperback originals, all of them steamy soap-operatic tales of beautiful people in beautiful places having beautiful sex. I also discovered that Fire Island was his first hit; before that he'd churned out a whole 'nother plethora of novels, these ones even trashier tales about jet-setting sex-maniacs which he published under the psuedonym Hugh Barron.
This is where the obsession kicked in, because the Barron titles were first released in the UK, under the wonderful New English Library banner. All were sex-and-drugs-filled tales with nude or mostly-nude women on the cover; I had to have them all!
One day I'll cover the Barron books, but today I'll start with Fire Island. It appears that after a somewhat-successful career churning out trash, Hirschfeld thought he'd strike out for the big leagues. Harold Robbins novels were all the rage, so Hirschfeld followed suit; take The Carpet-Baggers, set it in the late '60s, and place it in the New York island getaway of Fire Island, and you have this novel...er, Fire Island. Whereas the books he published under his Barron psuedonym traded on lurid plots or themes, this novel would be themeless; instead, it's a slice of life story of several friends who over the years vacation together in a beach-house on Fire Island. It spans the years, focusing on a large cast of intertwining characters, detailing their soap opera lives, their rises and falls, their trials and tribulations. And it is very, very good.
So what happened to Hirschfeld? Sorry to say, but I think he's dead. He published a steady flow of novels on through the '80s and early '90s; the last novel I can find published under his name is Daybreak, from 1992. Given his steady rate of output previous to this, I can't buy it that he ran out of ideas or retired from writing. The only answer is that he passed away. What's saddest about this is that no one seems to care; search online for Hirschfeld and, though you'll find plenty of sites which list his countless books for sale, you'll hardly find a review (or even a plot) for any of them, even Fire Island. And indeed, those reviews that you will find for his books are usually negative, because the reviewers just don't get Glorious Trash, man.
But you and I do. And I'm telling you, Burt Hirschfeld is in a class of trash fiction all his own. Find him. Read him.