Thursday, December 30, 2010

What Does Woman Want?

What Does Woman Want?, by Timothy Leary
1976, 88 Books

Timothy Leary wrote his first and only novel What Does Woman Want in prison, after his 1973 arrest. Founding the one-off publishing house "88 Books" with his then-wife, Leary published the book in a limited run of 5,000 copies in 1976; coincidentally, my copy is number 88.

Posing as science fiction (or as Leary calls it in the opening pages, "Science Faction"), Woman is mostly a sequel to Leary's 1973 autobiography Confessions Of A Hope Fiend. It picks up directly after the events depicted in that book, with Leary and his wife holing up in Switzerland under the care of wealthy arms financier Michael Duchard, aka "Goldfinger." Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty, and Leary himself poses as "Tim Leri," an "acid assassin" sent to Earth to help us "primates" advance up the chains of consciousness. The book operates on three narratives, with a 1960 section detailing Leary's LSD experiments in Harvard, a 1971 section dealing with the aftermath of Confessions, and a future section set in 2575 detailing the future of the human race.

Woman is built around Leary's concept of the eight levels of consciousness, which Robert Anton Wilson examined in Prometheus Unbound and Antero Alli molded into a plan for action in Angel Tech. Speaking of Wilson, his imprint is all over this book, providing a blurb on the back cover and a concise introduction (RAW fans will remember Wilson discussed his friendship with Leary in 1977's Cosmic Trigger).

That metaphysical bent so prevalent in Confessions is stronger than ever here, with Leary's female consort again referred to as "She" and "Her" and so on; Leary again giving her the status of the Archetypal Female. (Incidentally, I know this is Leary's attempt at flattering her so much that he considers her a god, but really - isn't it a bit demeaning to his wife herself? As if she has no personality of her own, and acts only as the faceless avatar of some unknown god.)

This is a strange novel to grasp, as it's so disjointed. Parts of it are blow-by-blow recounts of Leary's mundane reality, hobnobbing with underground royalty on the beaches of France. Other parts are Burroughsian extracts of interstellar intrigue. Other parts seem to be torn from neuroscience journals, filled with psychobabble jargon. There's no unifying thread, no cohesive narrative for the reader to hang on to. The book does at least answer the question posed by the title (a question famously asked by Freud), with aliens descending to the Earth and telling mankind what woman wants.

As if realizing this, Leary rewrote the novel several years later. New Falcon published this version in 1987, and it too is now out of print. I haven't read this rewrite, though it's my understanding the novel is entirely different from its 1976 incarnation, with Christopher Hyatt (New Falcon guru and Leary follower) taking the role of the villain.

So, a rare find for the Leary admirer, but not one everyone would want to seek out. Parts of it are great, other parts boring, and other parts grating with the usual Leary egotism in full effect.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Enforcer #2: Calling Doctor Kill!

The Enforcer #2: Calling Doctor Kill!, by Andrew Sugar
April, 1973 Lancer Books

After the fantastic Enforcer #1, this second volume is quite a letdown. It's nothing like its predecessor, filled with needless and endless exposition, bland characters, and lazy plotting. It only cements my opinion that the first volume was conceived as a straight-up novel and not the first volume in an ongoing series; this "sequel" appears to be nothing more than a quick and dirty follow-up churned out to meet a deadline.

What makes it all the worse is that Calling Doctor Kill opens so strongly. We pick up with clone Alex Jason on vacation, trying to get over the disastrous events of Enforcer #1. His girlfriend, fellow clone Brunnie, was killed in the final pages of that novel, and Alex still can't accept her death. In his latest clone body he is of course oggled by his fellow vacationers in the resort, but Alex is too bereft with misery to acknowledge them. Until he meets an attractive young lady dealing with her own bereavement -- several pages of graphically detailed sex follows, a sure cure for any woes. But beyond the hardcore shenanigans this is actually a touching scene, as these two characters find strength in one another. A "regular" novel could've focused solely on this aspect...but this is an action series, dammit, none of that pansy stuff.

To wit, Flack appears in the middle of Jason's frolicking and breaks it up with grim news. Flack is Jason's contact with "Big John," the institute for which Jason serves as an Enforcer; Flack relays that Rosegold, head scientist at the institute and Jason's friend, has been kidnapped by the syndicate. Jason breaks it off with his lady friend -- clones can never have relationships with nonclones, after all -- and heads with Flack back to headquarters where they can plan out a mission to free Rosegold.

Here's where the novel starts to suck. Back at Big John Jason engages in tons of conversations with Flack about Rosegold and how he was captured; also endless theoretical and political debates with the young doctor Jason is about to impersonate. Rosegold it develops is most likely imprisoned in a syndicate-owned rehab clinic, and Jason is to pose as this young pathologist and break Rosegold out. If he can't break him out, then he must kill him. I had a hard time buying that Jason could pose as such a specialized doctor, but no matter -- the narrative completely skips over any possibilty of Jason having to fumble his way through a pathologist's duties. Instead, once Jason arrives at the exclusive, resort-like clinic, we're to believe that the place is so overstaffed that a pathologist is only here for appearance's sake.

The enemy this time out is Guider, a ranking psychiatrist who runs the clinic. Guider's a syndicate member and Jason's certain the man has Rosegold locked away in the violent ward. What follows is a lot more exposition as Jason's shown around the clinic, with useless rundowns on various patients, the layout of the place, and etc. Page filler. More page filler ensues with more good ol' graphic sex, as Jason meets and then enthusiastically screws Janet, a gorgeous Big John inside agent who works with children in the clinic. This bit leads to one of the more lurid elements of Calling Doctor Kill; one of Janet's patients is Dennis, a retarded child who is used as a "private sucking machine" (to quote Burt Hirschfeld) by various orderlies.

More lurid stuff follows; part of Jason's ruse is to stir up a revolt in the clinic, and to do so he berates the local union rep. This happens to be an irascible black man, and Jason takes the opportunity to call the guy every racial slur in the book. Yep, that's our hero. It all finally boils to a head in the last pages, as Jason is captured, bullshits his way out of a certain death, and finally locates Rosegold. In fact the ending is so rushed that it's upon us before we even realize it.

All told, a disappointing followup to Enforcer #1. Even the writing is a step down. I have the rest of the series and I can only hope the ensuing volumes improve.

In 1975 Manor Books took over The Enforcer series, republishing the volumes; here's their cover for Calling Doctor Kill:

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Way We Are

The Way We Are, by William Bostock
December, 1970 Avon Books

You'd figure anything with "supersonic sex-odyssey" proclaimed on the cover would at least be interesting, right? Well, in the case of The Way We Are, first published in hardcover in '69 and then in the mass market paperback incarnation shown here in '70, you'd be wrong. This is one boooring novel, as vapid and listless as its forgettable protagonist.

Again the cover blurbs oversell the novel's sordid aspects. Reading the back cover copy you'd expect this book to detail the sex-crazed adventures of a depraved young woman. Instead the novel is more of a study of a small group of characters in the New York City of 1969, artists and writers and spoiled rich kids, the way they interract with one another and use one another. There's quite a bit of graphic sex on hand but to get there one must endure interminable conversations between said characters which are about...nothing. Seriously, this novel has the most inane dialog I've ever read. Characters talk about what they're going to do this weekend, or where they went on vacation last year, or the last person they slept with, for pages and pages.

Daphne Ashbaugh is the protagonist, a spoiled 27 year-old with bigtime mental problems. Her mother killed herself when Daphne was very young and Daphne has never gotten over it. She lashes out against her rich father and his "mistress" in ways both verbal and bizarre; the novel opens with one of Daphne's many ventures into self-abuse as she picks up a guy in Central Park and then takes him up to her apartment. The man proceeds to beat Daphne into a stupor and then takes some cash before leaving, telling her to be more careful next time she picks up someone in the park!

From there it gets more sordid -- Daphne leaves her boring fiancee for a man named Ransom, a good looking dude who likes women but sleeps with men for cash. The two become a pair and the main focus of the novel; there's also Lance, a young writer whom Daphne develops a thing for, and Lance's girlfriend Louanne, who refuses to sleep with Lance for some reason. Yes, this is another novel of characters with insufferable hangups.

The strangest thing about The Way We Are is its similarity to Burt Hirschfeld's Cindy On Fire. Both novels are about wealthy young women who lash out at their parents and have sex with as many men as they can (I think Cindy wins the competiton, though). Furthermore, both women are ostensible basket-cases, doing time with various therapists; both women also resort to heavy drinking quite often and try to kill themselves with an overdose of sleeping pills. And both novels feature the same ending for their respective heroines: both Daphne and Cindy become pregnant by one of their many suitors and decide to carry the child anyway, foisting it upon some poor rube they will marry, a poor rube who is not the child's father. Most incredibly, even the names of the two heroines are similar: Daphne Ashbaugh and Cindy Ashe. Since Cindy On Fire was published in 1971 and The Way We Are was published in 1969, you have to wonder...

At any rate at least Cindy On Fire was a zillion times more enjoyable, with better characters and better writing. The only good thing about The Way We Are is the cover photo, featuring some anonymous swinging '60s chick. Our swinging model appears again on the back cover, looking just as great -- love the boots!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Acapulco, by Burt Hirschfeld
October, 1972 Dell Books

Acapulco was first released in hardcover in 1971, coming out after Hirschfeld's breakout hit Fire Island. And it's mosty the same novel, another "beach read" -- a large, diverse group of people come to a scenic locale and deal with their various hangups while getting hammered and having sex. Of the two I think Fire Island is the better novel, even though Acapulco is really good in its own right. There's just something missing here, as if Hirschfeld has spread himself too thin with the huge cast of characters and subplots.

At the center of the novel is Paul Foreman, a gifted director who, after hitting it sort of big with a low-budget film, now drinks himself to death in a Mexican slum. Enter Harry Bristol, loudmouthed producer who's shooting a new movie titled Love, Love (really) in Acapulco -- Bristol's got his star, he's got his crew, he's got his funding...he's got everything but a director, because he fired the last one after a day's work due to the man's insistence upon retakes. Bristol is a man who cares only for money and hopes to become rich with the success of Love, Love.

The filmmakers are the central characters of the novel, and we see how they affect and interract with others in the expat community of Acapulco (for a novel set in Mexico, there's only one or two actual Mexican characters on display). Prime among these fringe characters is Samantha Moore, a once-famous socialite now in the decline of her glory; she owns a massive estate in Acapulco in which she allows the crew to film a nude swimming scene. Clinging to Samantha is Theo Gavin, an entrepreneur who pretends to be wealthier than he is, and Charles, Theo's hippie son. The father and son have come to Acapulco to reconnect but it's a hopeless cause; and honestly Charles is a deadweight of a character, the male version of Cindy Ashe from Cindy On Fire. Just another bland rich kid who mopes and pines about the world.

Nothing much really happens in Acapulco, though there are some good setpieces. Samantha throws a Christmas costume party at her estate, in which guests come dressed as characters from Mexican history. This is a ribald scene filled with drunk jetsetters and royalty duking it out by the pool. Charles Gavin justifies his presence in the novel by going on an actual dopequest; with a trio of fellow hippies he goes off into the hills in search of "magic mushrooms." Hirschfeld writes the ensuing trip with a nice psychedelic touch. And, unlike boring Cindy Ashe, at least Charles comes out of his trip a changed man.

A lot of narrative is spent on the filming of Love, Love, which sounds truly awful. Imagine Love Story as directed by Dennis Hopper and produced by Roger Corman and you might have an idea. Paul Foreman, the director, is the ostensible lead protagonist here, but he too is a shattered man, a drunk who lashes out at everyone. Paul has a quest of his own, in another of the novel's good moments: he spots a gorgeous caucasian woman in the crowded Acapulco marketplace and is obsessed with finding out who she is. It turns out to be Grace Biondi, another American expat here to study one of the dangerous mountain tribes which lurk about Acapulco. Paul forces himself into her life -- Grace, too, has hangups she must overcome -- and the two gradually fall in love.

Hirschfeld includes all of the trash fiction standards: there's sex, drugs, even a bit of violence. A late plot development features Samantha kidnapped by another of those dangerous mountain tribes, but after a lot of setup Hirschfeld downplays the promised action. In fact, maybe that's the core problem with Acapulco. It just seems like a retread of Fire Island, only without the skill and craftsmanship of that earlier novel. But on the other hand, Acapulco has a bit more of an exotic flair about it, and it better captures the groovy sexadelic era.

As far as the actual writing goes, I'll admit I lack any objectivity when it comes to Hirschfeld's prose. For whatever reason I really enjoy his writing; he has a definite skill for putting you inside a character's head, for creating three-dimensional worlds and situations. I will say however that he's guilty here of a bit too much POV-hopping for my tastes. And also a few of the characters are too similar; Theo Gavin and Harry Bristol could've easily been combined into one character.

Speaking of movies, Acapulco would've made for a fine early '70s film. It again mystifies me that none of Hirschfeld's novels were picked up for a movie; the closest he got was when his '76 bestseller Aspen was turned into a TV miniseries.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Male Mystique

The Male Mystique, by Jacques Boyreau
April, 2004 Chronicle Books

Here's a great but forgotten book which is out of print but luckily can be found for super-cheap online. I'd recommend you snatch it up fast if you're into anything from the sexadelic late '60s/early '70s era.

Composed of magazine ads from various men's magazines from the late '60s on through the late '70s, this book is a true feast for the eyes. Printed on rough paper that makes the lurid colors pop, it's a window into a forgotten time.

Boyreau enlivens the images every few pages with some psuedo-scholarly prose, but for the most part he hits the nail on the head: things were just so much more alive then, so much more real. The ads here -- despite their purely commercial origins -- are alive with an animal pulse that's been neutered in today's bullshit world of mediocrity.

Covering everything from slacks to "male comfort spray," the ads bring to life a world that most likely never really existed: a sex-filled world of glamorous gals and studly guys. It's like a trash fiction picture book. Sure, a prude could whine that some of these ads are a bit too risque, even a tad misogynistic, but hell. At least they aspire to be something, unlike the soulless ads of today.

Here are a few random ads from the book, stolen from about the web -- I don't want to butcher them with my patented crappy digital camera.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dossier IX

Dossier IX, by Barry Weil
June, 1970 Pyramid Books

Published in the UK in 1968, Barry Weil's spy novel Dossier IX was released to the US market in 1970 by Pyramid Books, sporting the greatest cover blurb I've yet seen:

The freakiest sex. The wildest action. The far-out "in" thriller of the year.

Which should pretty much whet the appetite of any devotee of trash fiction. Unfortunately, the novel fails to deliver on the hyperbole, being instead a rather dull and routine spy thriller with the occasional bizarre touch. The cover had me hoping for some sort of late '60s TNT sort of thing, but Dossier IX is very much in the mold of Ian Fleming.

Jacob Asher is an Israeli secret agent on loan to British secret service, where he's assigned a headlines-making case: a traitorous British agent has escaped from prison and Asher must find him. Asher follows the trail to Paris, where he works with a cynical French agent named Cassegrain. After a run-in with a beautiful Arabic prostitute who tries to kill him, Asher realizes his cover has been blown and eventually learns that a group of Arabs were behind the attempt. This section of the novel is quite relevant, as the Arabs are attempting to gain atomic weaponry for their homeland and have worked out a deal with various levels of the French government.

Asher is called back and forth from Paris to London; much of the novel is wasted with meetings in which his British superiors recap everything that's so far transpired, as if we readers haven't been paying attention. Eventually sent to Switzerland where he works with a gorgeous French agent codenamed Minou, Asher at length tracks down his quarry, and it's here in the final pages that the bizarre stuff occurs. Most notably, one of the villains dabbles in necrophilia, and Asher comes upon a large formaldehyde tank filled with the corpses of three nude women.

Weird stuff for sure; unfortunately the rest of the novel fails to match it. Actually, I found the whole thing boring. Lots of talking and exposition -- and to make it worse, Weil is a terrible practictioner of POV-hopping. One paragraph we're in one character's head, the next we're in another character's...on and on until we feel like we're watching a ping-pong game. It's a terrible and confusing thing for the reader to experience and it's something every writer should stop doing right now.

All told, the novel is a slow-moving, dialog and narrative-heavy affair, the few sex and violence scenes dulled by the overly-complex writing style. So unfortunately, Dossier IX was a chance discovery that didn't pan out for me: kudos though to whoever at Pyramid wrote that cover blurb.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cindy On Fire

Cindy On Fire, by Burt Hirschfeld
April, 1971 Avon Books

As mentioned in my review of Fire Island, Cindy on Fire was my introduction to Burt Hirschfeld. I discovered the novel in the time-honored tradition: browsing the mass market paperback shelves at a local used books emporium. The title caught my eye, and I checked out the cover and its groovy illustration of partying people. But it was the back-cover copy that really drew me in:

Welcome to Cindy's world -- the decadent playground of society studs and jet-set perverts, of dirty old men out for naked young bodies and freaking hippies into acid-rock scenes. Follow her search for fulfillment -- out of her middle-class upbringing into the sordid glamour of international film making and on to a non-stop merry-go-round of exotic lovers. It's a trip too hot to forget!

By the time I got to "freaking hippies" I was already on my way to the register. The book seemed to offer all I demand in trash fiction: sex, drugs, rock, gorgeous gals. Globetrotting jet-setters living at the peak of mod fashion. But I soon discovered that Cindy On Fire was a psuedo-sequel to Fire Island, so I tracked that novel down and read it first. Really though, Cindy On Fire isn't much of a sequel and could be read completely separate from Fire Island. Though if features a few of the same characters, they don't impact the narrative at all; Cindy herself is the main character throughout, and she herself only received a few passing mentions in Fire Island. For whereas the former novel was a Harold Robbins-esque study of a large cast of characters and how they interracted with one another over the years, Cindy On Fire is a picaresque, following our bland heroine from one sexual misadventure to another.

But it's not as trashy as that back-cover blurb implies. Instead it appears that Hirschfeld here was attempting a sort of "commentary on the late 1960s" thing, and so the novel comes off like Candy meets Forrest Gump, with our heroine inadvertently encountering all of the countercultural milestones of the era while being chased by countless horny men.

Cindy Ashe is an 18 year-old knockout living in the New York City of 1968. The novel occurs at the same time as the final half of Fire Island: Cindy learns that her huckster father Roy has been arrested for murder. Cindy meanwhile is busy turning tricks for her heroin-addicted closet gay boyfriend BB (a great reverse image of Fire Island, where Cindy and BB appeared to us as wholesome teens). But after hearing of Robert Kennedy's death, Cindy freaks out and realizes she's wasting her life. She runs away from BB and his sordid life and vows to never prositute herself again. She finds herself in the artistic caul of downtown NYC, hanging out with artists and revolutionairies. Her closest friend here is Rafe, a strikingly handsome gay dude who serves throughout the novel as Cindy's surrogate brother/asexual lover.

After a brief lesbian fling with a female artist, Cindy hooks up with a young radical and goes with him and his pals to the Chicago Democratic convention. Anyone who knows their US history can suspect what's in store for her: after endless pages of hippie prattle, Cindy finds herself chased through the streets of Chicago by rabid cops who smash in hippie skulls with glee. Traumatized yet again by these events (Cindy is traumatized at least a dozen times in the novel), Cindy goes back to her home in New York where she convinces her mother to send her off to Europe.

Here the novel becomes a true picaresque. Over the course of a few hundred pages, Cindy goes from party-hopping with a pair of mod "birds" in London, where she falls in love with a deathly ill scion, to living in Paris with a French revolutionary who involves Cindy in the kidnapping of a former Nazi, to assisting Rafe (who pops in and out of the narrative with a complete disregard for deus ex machina) as an assistant photographer for a magazine pictorial on a big-budget Hollywood movie filming in Spain, where Cindy finds herself the sexual goal of the two male stars.

Yes, all of this really happens. It's like five books in one, and the depressing thing is that none of the segments have anything to do with each other. When Cindy finally returns to New York City around page 400 of this 515-page book, I realized with dismay that you could cut out the entire 300-page trip to Europe and it wouldn't make a difference. Cindy is unchanged by the events she endured, still as dumb and bland and naive as ever.

So, as usual, I have a theory. Before striking it big with Fire Island, Hirschfeld published a handful of novels under the name "Hugh Barron." These were moreso trash fiction than Fire Island, usually involving Hollywood harlots or depraved businessmen looking for new kicks. My suspicion is that the entire "Europe section" of Cindy On Fire is composed of material Hirschfeld planned to use for his Hugh Barron novels. I mean, what's more "trash fiction" than a group of French radicals kidnapping a former Nazi? But upon realizing that he could have a nice career publishing less trashy stuff under his own name, he just shoehorned this material into a quick and dirty sequel to Fire Island.

The problem is, the novel wants to be trashy but refuses to go all the way. Cindy is a bland and stupid character, never learning from her mistakes and living in a world of eternal naivete. She comes off like the protagonist of an R-rated Romance comic. And despite the cover blurb that Cindy is "a passionate young girl making all the scenes," Cindy throughout the novel is only searching for "true love;" she isn't some jet-setting nympho looking for the latest wild scene. Indeed, she runs from a few orgies in the novel -- and I'm not kidding, she actually runs from them. She goes to acid-drenched parties, strip clubs, meets all sorts of people who actually enjoy the ribald world in which they live, but Cindy herself pines and mopes her way through the novel, eternally picking one wrong guy after the next.

And the male characters on display are even worse, as impossible as that may sound. Each guy Cindy meets is a motormouthed asshole, going on and on about how great they are, how terrible the world is, and how they're going to change it. The French radicals are the worst. I can't tell you how numbing it is to read a hundred or so pages of one French revolutionary after another delivering endless banal speeches -- and they all sound the same! You could say this was Hirschfeld's commentary on the drone-like minds of the '60s radical set, but seriously, I could've picked up on the satire in about 10 pages or so. Every one of these guys is loathsome and despicable; at the top of the list would have to be Henri, the radical film-maker who blathers about "true art" for countless pages. It all drove me to drink.

The Hollywood film section in Spain is mildly better, but again it has nothing to do with the preceeding adventures. Adding further fuel to my theory is that Alain, the French radical who brought Cindy along on the Nazi-kidnapping scheme, here transforms into a fame-obsessed wanna-be actor, with no further mention of the revolutionary fervor which so consumed him in previous pages. It's as if Hirschfeld has made two separate characters into one. But the promise of an old-fashioned '60s/'70s Hollywood-sex trash fiction epic is denied as Cindy again buzzkills it for us; she falls of course for the meanest guy in the pack, a black American footballer who spends countless pages going on about being black in America. The novel, really, is just one speech after another, and it wears down your soul. But all of the speeches are so tiresomely dated. It's like the novel should've been published with an expiration date.

But then something magical happens. Around page 400 Cindy returns to New York and, after a few boring chapters of Cindy again resorting to a depression of pills and booze, traipsing from one 42nd Street grindhouse to another, it's as if Hirschfeld suddenly remembers who he is. For here he gives us some pure trash -- and if my theory is true then this section for sure was once a "Hugh Barron" novel-to-be. Cindy meets Adam Gilbert, a successful rock producer who throws orgies in his mansion and flies from one "recording crisis" to another. Cindy of course falls madly in love with the guy, but again here's another man who treats her like shit. Gilbert refuses to sleep with Cindy, and after she throws herself at him, begging, he orders her to pleasure him orally. For it turns out that this is all he wants her for, to make Cindy his "private sucking machine." And she goes for it, a willing slave, waiting for his command to drop to her knees at any time or place to blow him. Now that's trash fiction!!

It gets even trashier, too, and in a grand way: after ignoring Cindy for weeks, sleeping with various singers and movie queens, Gilbert finally has enough of Cindy's implorements for sex. "You want to get laid," he tells her. "Well, that's what you're going to get." After drugging her with some spiked booze, Gilbert plants Cindy in a sideroom and sends in four men who each have their way with her, one after another.

Cindy awakens to find herself in Bellevue, where she's been committed as a mental patient. After some banal parlaying with her shrink, she's discharged and lives again with her mother and stepfather. Bored with her meaningless existence, Cindy again plummets into a booze-and-pills depression, eventually becoming a world-class Easy Lay, sleeping with a succession of men. After a bizarre sequence where a guy on the street masturbates on her, Cindy breaks down yet again -- only a few pages after her previous breakdown! But this one finally has an effect on our girl's limited brainspan. And so, in the final pages of this endless novel, Cindy smartens up. She realizes she never has left the prostitution game, after all.

Throughout the novel Cindy has been courted by David Altman, a geeky guy her age who aspires to be a society-improving lawyer. Again, the bad Romance comic similarities -- Hirschfeld tries to "shock" us with this, as Cindy berates Altman when she first meets him in the opening pages, scoffing his advances, never responding to the letters he sends her during her European quest. But we all know where it's going. For, just like in those maudlin old comics like Teen Romance or Our Love Story, wholesome values prevail, and Cindy finds TRUE LOVE once and for all, in the last place she'd expect (the last place she would expect, that is...the girl's an idiot, you see).

Hirschfeld tied up this loose trilogy the following year with Fire In The Embers; this one featured Mike Birns, Hirschfeld's ostensible stand-in, and one of the main characters in Fire Island. Like Hirschfeld himself, Birns is a trash fiction author looking to publish "real novels" under his own name. I have Fire In The Embers but I've never finished it; rather than focusing on Birns's writing life it's about his gambling addiction. What's more boring to read about than gambling? And, like Cindy On Fire, it's too long for it's own good, coming it at nearly 600 pages. Several years later, in 1984, Hirschfeld capped the series with Return To Fire Island, another one I have but haven't read -- it appears to be about Cindy's old boyfriend BB.

Despite my qualms with Cindy On Fire, I still recommend Burt Hirschfeld's work -- there's something about his writing I find very appealing. He has a way to pull you into his narrative, to make his characters seem real. He's a definite craftsman and it's a shame he's been forgotten. But he left behind a huge body of work, one that's ripe for rediscovery.