|Vintage Pulp||Feb 8 2022|
She used the oldest game to become the newest player.
Once again art makes the sale, as we bought this copy of The Revolt of Mamie Stover thanks to its Robert Maguire cover. The blonde femme fatale is of course the Mamie of the title, an aspiring actress run out of Hollywood upon threat of death and booked onto a freighter headed for Honolulu, there to descend into the oldest profession and become a famed wartime prostitute known as Flaming Mamie. The story details her efforts to earn a mint, procure for herself a piece of Honolulu, and buy her way to respectability against terrific opposition from Oahu's Anglo bluebloods.
But there was something about the book that we couldn't put a finger on at first. If we'd read it in 1951 when it was originally published, it might have been clearer, we figured, but as it stood we weren't sure what underlying point Huie was trying to make until halfway through, when—aha!—we realized The Revolt of Mamie Stover is an allegory for the liberal assault against old world American values. At least that's the conclusion we reached. Just to be sure we double-checked on the internet and—aha!—allegory, liberal assault, and so forth.
However, like certain other mid-century novelists considered to be sociologically incisive at the time, Huie was working from incomplete information. The worth, order, and ever escalating prosperity he suggests industrious white men created out of primitive chaos are ending with a whimper under the assaults of climate change, soil depletion, de-industrialization, species extinction, tax evasion, unregulated financial speculation, and cynical war. Raping nature is simply a counterproductive enterprise. The science on that is settled. Trickle down economics don't trickle. That's settled too. Those industrious men built nothing that wasn't going to collapse anyway due to the laws of physics and corrupt economics.
But as we said, Huie couldn't have known that, so within his allegory America is going to hell in a handbasket due to the aforementioned liberal democratization. Or more to the point—give everyone equal rights, and the ungrateful bastards will actually use them to change things. Mamie Stover, barred from all the nice sectors of Honolulu because of her supposedly shameful profession, revolts against and smashes the prohibitions imprisoning her in second class citizenship—and as a result opens the door for native Hawaiians to burst their confines too and ruin whites-only Waikiki Beach.
Huie presents a choice between an orderly but racially repressive society and a disorderly democratic society, but he gets the reasons for disorder wrong. Disorder derives from deprivation, not democratization. Few people get bothered over what others achieve or possess if they feel themselves to be getting a fair shake. But make them feel they've been cheated and they'll assign blame. This is really what the industrious men figured out: the underclasses normally look upward for reasons their lives aren't improving, but it can be prevented if some of them can be made to feel they've been fucked over by others of them. If a racial element can be injected too, all the better. Once discord is established, even people who know better have to join the fight, if only to defend those unfairly under attack.
But while The Revolt of Mamie Stover is built around a moribund allegory, Mamie's personal story makes it a page turning book. You root for her—though it should noted she's no true protagonist. Huie gives readers a masterclass in racism, expressed repetitively and explicitly. Hawaiians, Japanese, Chinese, and other peoples you'd see around the islands are referred to mainly by slurs—not typical anti-Asian slurs, butrather by that age-old slur for African Americans. Nice, right? It pops up, we'd estimate, fifty times in a short book. And Mamie is even more racist-mouthed than the rest. Once she gains access to the tony districts of town, she plans to punch down on all these undesirables. And she's going to enjoy it, she makes clear. She's prostituted herself to gain status—why should she care about anyone who wasn't willing to sacrifice as she did?
A tale this ideological naturally makes you wonder what the author's personal beliefs were. Huie was complicated. While working as a journalist he involved himself in one of the most infamous racist murders of his era, and not in a good way. But he counted among his acquaintances Zora Neale Hurston and Roy Wilkins. He was probably not a bigot by 1950s standards, but in writing about class and race he was uncompromising, and his foundational assumptions about society were wrong. He could have written The Revolt of Mamie Stover with far less ugliness and it would have worked fine, but that never would have occurred to him. He saw ugly realism and reflected it. In that way he was a true writer. Before you read the book—if indeed you do—you'll have to consider that.
HawaiiHonoluluSignet BooksWilliam Bradford HuieRobert MaguireZora Neale HurstonRoy Wilkinscover artliterature