Hemingway's lament for the downtrodden working class is supposed to be his worst novel. But is it really?
Don't let the cover blurbs fool you. In general To Have and Have Not is considered by critics to be Ernest Hemingway's worst novel. Originally published in 1937, it was completely rewritten and became a great 1944 movie with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. If you've already seen the movie but never read the book, hold onto your hats, because this is extraordinarily rough stuff from Hemingway, a tale of desperation and murder in the depths of the Great Depression. Harry Morgan is a Key West boat captain who's stiffed for $825 after his three-week charter skips town. That would be about $15,000 in today's money, so it's no surprise that losing this bundle means Morgan, who's married, has three kids, the usual assortment of bills and responsibilities, and has spent his life fighting to get ahead, is now destitute.
If you opt to read the book, make sure not to gloss over exactly how far in the hole Morgan is. $825 dollars would bend the morals of most people in 1937, just as $15,000 would today. After being cheated out of this cash he makes a fateful decision to turn criminal himself by running illegals from Cuba to Florida. That's when things go from bad to worse. If you look closely at the cover art on this Perma Books edition from 1953 you'll see what the result of Morgan's criminal foray was. That's one reason cover art is so interesting. The scene the artist chooses to depict—in this case it's Tom Dunn—can sometimes be so specific as to give away an important plot point. If you can't tell what we're talking about by looking at the art we'll give you a hint. What happens to Morgan is the also title of an earlier Hemingway book.
But moving on, To Have and Have Not is—we'll just come out and say it—brutally racist. There are some who would like to gaslight you into thinking you're seeing something that isn't there, and others who would prefer you to ignore this, but you shouldn't, because racism is actually pivotal in the narrative. Morgan's initial foray into crime is against people he clearly feels are subhuman. They and other ethnic groups are referred to with slurs, and these come not just from Morgan's mouth, and from his thoughts, but from the writer's thoughts too. There are places where Morgan uses actual names to refer to characters that Hemingway still refers to by slurs. Think: “Hey Joe, give me a hand with these poles,” said Harry. The [slur] put down his coffee and helped Harry with the poles. So while it's always good to separate the author from their fiction so they have freedom to create any sort of characters they wish, it still raises an eyebrow when you read something like that.
Another aspect of To Have and Have Not that may jar is its lack of sympathetic characters. Morgan's ex-prostitute wife Marie is probably the nicest person in the book, and even she drops n-bombs all over place. But you have to root for someone, so it's her and Harry. You do it because they're at the economic mercy of terrible people. Most of these folks—who are generally of a better class—wouldn't use racial slurs, but they also wouldn't think twice about ruining someone for a few dollars. And while Harry employs a black man and gets along with him fine, you can be sure none of his rich charters would let a black man deign to speak to them. So in its way, To Have and Have Not is relevant in 2020 by starring a working class character who's uncouth, uneducated, and devoid of genuine empathy, but who constantly deals with people that think they're better than him and really aren't.
This is why losing the charter and those $825 bucks is such a clever way to open the novel. The charter, Johnson, flies away and doubtless never gives what he did much thought, but in shafting a working man creates wreckage that crushes not just the man he cheated, but those around him. We think this is the way to focus on the book if you read it—acknowledge the obvious deficiencies of Harry Morgan, but pay close attention to the secondary characters. This is what Hemingway wanted, which is why Morgan's narration lasts for only a while. Everything after his first crime caper is told from outside his point of view. As the book goes on, Hemingway drags you deeper into the lives of these ancillary characters, dispassionately leaving a struggling Morgan to recede into the distance.
So is To Have and Have Not Hemingway's worst book? We don't like it as much as his other works, but with its changes in point-of-view, mood, and even narrative tense, it's also more challenging than those books. Ultimately, the most serious indictment of To Have and Have Not comes from the author himself—he thought it was his worst book too. And who are we argue with Ernest Hemingway? But on the other hand, when you write The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls, and win a Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea, and later win a Nobel Prize for your body of work, your worst book can still be pretty good.
What a hypnotic sight. Maybe one day we'll have a Space Force and threaten to rain fire down upon the planet.
In this photo made today in 1969, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and a crowd of others watch Apollo 11 lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Back then it must have seemed almost miraculous. A bunch of theoretical scientists in the U.S. and Soviet Union said manned spaceflight would work, the politicians went, “Great—here's some billions of dollars or rubles to make it happen.” And years later it did when Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. But Apollo 11 was the big one, in our opinion. It's one thing to toss a person into space in a hollow cannonball like Sputnik, and another bowl of pancake batter altogether to send people to another world and bring them back alive. Opinions vary, of course, but we think this flight was and remains the most important rung on humanity's celestial ladder. As things are developing, with countries reneging on their promises not to exploit space for monetary or military gain, it would be better for both the cosmos and Earth if there are no more rungs for a while. Neil Armstrong's quote, when he set foot on the moon, was, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” We've taken a giant leap backwards since then.
Small town and home of famed tourist attraction disappears with the stroke of a pen.
Frequent visitors to Pulp Intl. know we love vintage photos of women under the water. We've posted numerous photos of the aquamaidens of L.A.'s Townhouse Hotel, and last year we shared a collection of vintage shots from the famous mermaid show at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. The park was in the news this week because the governor of Florida signed legislation officially dissolving the town of Weeki Wachee. It no longer exists. Considering the place had only thirteen official residents, it can barely be said to have existed before, apart from the mermaid show, a Motel 6, and a shitload of parking.
Why was the town dissolved? Reports indicate that it had financial corruption issues, somehow managing to generate over $1 million in unpaid bills, according to a 2019 audit. But who cares about all that? What of the mermaids? They're all that matter. Luckily, indications are that they will swim on. While the park is currently closed because of that damned virus, Weeki Wachee's disappearance should have no effect on one of Florida's oldest tourist attractions, which means you can still make it part of your future vacation plans. Line forms behind us. If you want to find out more about the park and see some amazing old postcards, look here.
If you put your fingers in the honey pot you're bound to make a mess.
We recently read an essay giving Charles Willeford credit as the man who helped originate the genre of South Florida fiction, a profitable niche occupied by John D. MacDonald, Randy Wayne White, and many other authors. Willeford's 1958 novel Honey Gal, originally titled The Black Mass of Brother Springer, is the story of a writer who gets himself appointed minister of a black church in fictional Jax, Florida. He proceeds to use the position to pile up collection money with the aim of stealing it and running away to New York City with a beautiful local girl, the honey gal of the title.
This book is tricky. It's foremost a drama about a man who wants nothing more than a life of leisure, and realizes he's a natural born con man with the gifts to make his dream come true. But the tale is also improbable enough to come across as a farce, funny in parts, though too racially vicious to be considered a comedy, and satirical in the sense that it paints religion as generally a scam. It's a lot to digest, but even so the book, while interesting, is not what we'd call compelling. Willeford has daring ideas, but those who suggest he deserves consideration as a literary author overlook the fact that his writing is not executed at the highest level.
So we think of Honey Gal not as an overlooked classic, but as a somewhat unusual swindle novel written from the point of view of a religious charlatan. In his efforts to gain trust and accumulate cash, the main character accidentally finds himself in a position where his authority as a man of the cloth could do actual good. But will he let his plans for the sweet life be derailed by the opportunity to help others? Will he cool his ardor for that honey gal? Will he have an epiphany on the road to perdition? Hah. You know better than that. Willeford is an entertaining writer, no doubt. Honey Gal is about as different as genre fiction gets.
Florida sleaze in the Florida Keys.
In Offshore Resort, written by Dee Winters and published in 1962, a Key West bartender is enticed into a job on a swanky resort island and finds there's all sorts of sexual mixing and matching going on between its rich denizens, and that he's expected to join the activities as a boy toy. He took the job in the first place to be close to his girlfriend, an unhappily married, idle-rich trophy wife whose husband is a drunken bully. Watching his true love play the perfect wife is hard enough to watch, but the scenario gets more complicated when his neighbor, innocent young Angel, gets a job at the resort too and draws the attentions of the place's worst men. Winters could have gone all sorts of interesting places with this narrative, but reached none of them. Beacon Signal sleaze titles are wildly hit and miss. This one is a miss.
Swamp monster discovers that it's humans who are the real slime.
Who is truly monstrous—beast or man? That pretty much covers The Creature Walks Among Us front to back. When a group of scientists set out to capture an aquatic humanoid that lives in the Florida Everglades, they clash over whether the mission is one of mere discovery or rather cruel experimentation. To wit, the head of the expedition wants to genetically alter the creature as a step on the ladder toward making humans hardy enough for space travel. No, it doesn't really make sense. And it's hard to care, since with three basically identical looking guys as the three male leads we had a hard time telling them apart. And this in a movie in which they also wear lab coats much of the time, making it even more difficult to distinguish them. Lean and lovely co-star Leigh Snowden, on the other hand, is distinguishable as hell, and the three haircuts are soon vying for her attentions. But there's science that needs to be scienced, so they eventually capture the monster. It's upon returning to dry land that their problems really start. As third in the canon of Creature from the Black Lagoon flicks, The Creature Walks Among Us is worth a gander, but not necessarily a recommendation. It's damned funny in parts, though. Unintentionally. Above you see the movie's Belgian poster, with text in French and Dutch. It's far better than the film itself.
Unstoppable forces meet immovable opinions in John D. MacDonald's novels.
John D. MacDonald is a polemical writer. We've jumped around his lengthy bibliography enough to be intimately familiar with his strong opinions about a wide ranging array of subjects. His basic approach is, “I've thought about this social phenomenon/cultural development/historical factoid much more carefully than anybody and here's the ironclad dogma I've developed about it.” Which is fine, we guess. His observations about the inexorable direction of civilization remain insightful half a century later. We've built a house of cards and MacDonald took pains to point that out, with intelligence and some wit. But in seven books we've read, which he wrote in three different decades, he consistently cheats when writing about people, choosing in general to portray them as weak willed cardboard cutouts so they serve as foils for his sociological philosophizing.
This, more than any other reason, is why so many contemporary readers say MacDonald's writing hasn't aged well. But in our opinion he's still worth reading. There's real menace in his work, which is job one for a thriller author. In 1953's Dead Low Tide his hero is suspected of using a spear gun to skewer his boss, seemingly over either a real estate project or the man's slinky wife, and someone may be setting him up for the crime. His actual prospective love interest, a longtime neighbor, is drawn into the mess in her efforts to provide an alibi. MacDonald dishes out the twists, despairs the loss of Florida wilderness to fast-buck builders, and laments what's in the hearts of men. It's a good book, but you don't need us to tell you that. The man sold a skillion novels for a reason. We're moving on to The Executioners after this, which is the source material for the film adaptation Cape Fear, and we have high expectations.
If you'd just asked for directions like I told you we wouldn't be in this mess.
This is a nice acquisition—Vereen Bell's Swamp Water with George Gross art on the front. The book is a rural slice of life novel dealing with a young trapper named Ben Ragan who ventures into the Okefenokee Swamp in search of his lost hunting dog, Trouble. Nobody, aside from Indian tribes of earlier times, is thought to have entered the dreaded swamp and returned. Ragan goes in and finds Trouble—and trouble. Bell expertly catalogs swamp flora, fauna, and topography, which makes for a backdrop so vivid you can almost feel the humidity. This is an extraordinarily enjoyable tale, a sort of a revenge novel/chronicle of the deep South/backwoods adventure, written when the vast Okefenokee straddling Georgia and Florida was nearly uncharted territory. 1941 on this originally, with Bantam's edition coming in ’47.
Yes, we'd like two medium pepperoni pizzas, please. And the delivery boy will need scuba gear.
What's the collective noun for a group of mermaids? A school? A shoal? A bevy? No idea. But above and below we have some beautiful Technicolor postcards featuring a— Well, since they seem to be having so much fun let's call them a party of mermaids, who were participants in a popular aquatic show in Weeki Wachee State Park, Florida. A 430 acre water park was built there in 1947 with numerous areas, and the mermaid show made its home in a large pool dubbed the Underwater Grand Canyon. By the 1950s Weeki Wachee State Park was one of the nation's most popular tourist stops, and a small outpost town called Weeki Wachee also sprang up.
The spot reached its zenith during the 1960s, when the swimmers staged ten performances a day, but its popularity waned from that point. Usually these stories of protracted decline end with something wonderful and weird disappearing forever, but just when it looked like the mermaids might go extinct, the Florida government stepped in and converted Weeki Wachee Springs into a state park. Thanks to that bit of legislative goodness the party of mermaids exists to this day, spreading fun and making memories. These cards are all from the 1950s and 1960s. Want to see more underwater beauty? Check out the Los Angeles Aqua Maidens here, and the famous Belita underwater here.
As long as you're already feeling terrible I might as well tell you he landed on your cat.
For such clever animals cats do get underfoot at inconvenient times, don't they? But fret not—no felines are flattened in Day Keene's Wake Up To Murder. There's barely any character development at all, let alone time for extraneous animals. What happens here is the protagonist James Charters decides to save a woman from death row. Sound familiar? That's because it's the same set-up Keene used for Death House Doll. Plotwise the books diverge from there, as Charters gets blamed for a couple of murders and has some mobsters chasing after him for $10,000 they think he has. Put this in the Florida thriller bin, copyright 1952.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Nightclub Fire Kills Hundreds
In Boston, Massachusetts, a fire
in the fashionable Cocoanut Grove nightclub kills 492 people. Patrons were unable to escape when the fire began because the exits immediately became blocked with panicked people, and other possible exits were welded shut or boarded up. The fire led to a reform of fire codes and safety standards across the country, and the club's owner, Barney Welansky, who had boasted of his ties to the Mafia and to Boston Mayor Maurice J. Tobin, was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
1934—Baby Face Nelson Killed
In the U.S., killer and bank robber Baby Face Nelson, aka Lester Joseph Gillis, dies in a shoot-out with the FBI in Barrington, Illinois. Nelson is shot nine times, but by walking directly into a barrage of gunfire manages to kill both of his FBI pursuers before dying himself.
1922—Egyptologists Enter Tut's Tomb
British Egyptologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon become the first people to enter the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in over 3000 years. Though sometimes characterized as scholars, Carter and Carnarvon were primarily interested in riches, and cut up Tut's mummy to more easily obtain the jewels and gold affixed to him.
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