Tuesday, 8 July 2014
Author: Evan Hunter
Date of publication: 1964, Mayflower-Dell edition 1965.
Back cover blurb: THE BIG NEW NOVEL BY THE AUTHOR OF BLACKBOARD JUNGLE
STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET
Evan Hunter's magnificent new novel is the story of a journey of discovery. Its nameless protagonist wakes up in Central Park, faced with a terrifying riddle: who am I? His quest takes him into the myriad city: Chinatown and the wild spree with a sailor; the Italian all-night wedding feast: the scavenger hunt with the glossy rich woman on an emotional bender; Harlem... and at the last shift of the kaleidoscope, the final revelation.
Reading reveals: Evan Hunter is, of course, better known as the crime writer Ed McBain, although neither was his real name. The Hunter pseudonym, one of many, was mainly used for serious literary efforts that tended to not hang about for long despite making an immediate splash, such as Blackboard Jungle and Last Summer, the latter a personal favourite of mine and big influence on my second novel Flying Saucer Rock & Roll with its presentation of adolescence as a conduit for evil.
Despite separating out his 'serious' and genre efforts in this way, Hunter nevertheless tended to employ a snappy, noir-ish style, which lends everything a veneer of brutal kitsch, not unlike that found in Sam Fuller films such as Shock Corridor.
Buddwing (quickly turned into the '60s Hollywood curio Mister Buddwing) tells of a man who wakes up with no memory of who he is. This is slowly revealed to him as he wanders New York, getting himself into various scrapes and having a ridiculous amount of sex before lunchtime. Past and present, fantasy and reality intermingle, building up to a big reveal which isn't as exciting as you'd hope for.
Not quite the momentous insight into the human condition than it seems to think it is, and therefore a bit pretentious, and at times weirdly naive (characters say 'I love you' about twenty minutes after meeting), it nevertheless contains a fair number of good bits, with Hunter's skill with dialogue keeping things afloat. A middling book from a fascinating author.
Random paragraph: 'The old man leaned closer to him. Buddwing saw his eyes for the first time. They were clear and blue and staring at him brightly, reflecting the late afternoon sun. They were the eyes of a lunatic.'