Monday, March 21, 2011
Night Games, by Charles Rigdon
1969, Award Books
Thanks to my man Martin Boucher for telling me about this novel. Charles Rigdon is a forgotten master of the trash fiction genre, and this, his first novel, is a forgotten peek into the decay of the jet-set. The cover proclaims this as "an adult novel," which makes one expect the typical Award sleaze, but Night Games isn't graphic at all. Sure, there's a lot of bizarre sexual stuff afoot, but it isn't very explicit. In fact it's more of a "literary" novel.
It's a slim novel, too, coming in at 156 pages. But given the tiny print it's more likely around 200 or so pages. At any rate Charles Rigdon packs in a lot of story, with a strong cast of characters. Dana Tower is our hero, former "screen goddess" now gone to the bottle, still gorgeous but on a self-propelled spiral to hell. Married and divorced many times over, she's fabulously wealthy but dead inside -- the same old story. We meet Dana as she comes out of another of her alcohol-induced stupors, having slept with yet another man in a series of forgotten one-night stands. (Dana later states that she "stopped counting after a hundred.")
Dana's "friends" are just as screwed up. Foremost there's Kelley, depraved scion of a wealthy clan who runs endless parties in his secluded mansion in the countryside beyond New York City. Kelley is a true perverter of the innocent and keeps a circle of attractive young men with him at all times; once Kelley is finished with one he spurns him and finds an instant replacement. This is a cause of tension between Dana and Kelley as one of the circle is Barry, Dana's former fiance -- Kelley stole the man away from Dana before they could get married. In exchange for their favors Kelley gives the men money and promises to include them in his will (which he's constantly changing).
There's an entire decadent world within Kelley's mansion; Dana goes there for her fortieth birthday party and this section is the novel's most entertaining. We meet a few of Kelley's circle, one of them a Steve Reeves type, a bodybuilder known for "playing Greek gods" in trashy Italian movies. There's also Crystal, officially Kelley's "fiance" but instead a bimbo who keeps him happy with a revolving circle of men. As the party's in progress more decadence is afoot with a pair of twin youths, male and female, who try to rape a young Marine they've abducted. It all culminates with Dana trying to talk sense into Barry, getting stone drunk yet again, and then awaking from her stupor late at night to find an s&m orgy going on in one of the mansion's many rooms.
After all of this decadence the novel takes on more of a soap opera nature. Dana runs into the man she slept with just before the novel began; seeing him, she remembers him instantly. This is Sky, the doorman at Dana's posh apartment building. Sky has developed feelings for Dana and is certain she plans to kill herself. He's right. Spying on her from the street, Sky races up the twenty floors just in time to stop Dana from jumping to her death. Sky tries to save Dana, even though we know it's hopeless. They move to California, staying in one of Dana's many houses. But the domesticity is ruined as Dana continues to plunge back to her true nature, escaping from Sky's controlling behavior.
A disastrous trip to Mexico ends with Dana leaving Sky and visiting a friend in the French Riviera. Here we have some prime late '60s jet-set stuff as Dana becomes "acquainted" with a studly European guy named Boron who drives around the Riviera in his brand new Alfa-Romeo. Meanwhile Rigdon develops gripping subplots, in particular the revenge Barry and Crystal try to enact upon their corruptor Kelley.
But the reader will know from page one that Night Games is not bound for a happy ending. As Dana comes further to realize the waste she has made of her life, the lives of those around her also spiral out of control. It's as if Rigdon is telling us that the glamor of the jet-set life is a lie, that it leads to nothing but ruin and the jet-setters themselves are nothing but soul-sucking vampires.
This is not a fun novel, but it is an enjoyable one, especially given that Rigdon's prose is both economical and vibrant. I'm floored when a writer is able to bring to life an entire world and its people in so few pages. Rigdon definitely has a way with word painting, and I look forward to reading more of his work.