Sunday 15 September 2019
LAWRENCE BLOCK (as SHELDON LORD) - 21 GAY STREET (1962)
When Joyce Kendall arrives in New York, fresh out of Clifton College in Iowa, she has a job and an apartment waiting for her. The job’s as a first reader for Armageddon Publications. The apartment’s at 21 Gay Street, and the small Federal-period house is already home to a lesbian couple, Jean Fitzgerald and Terri Leigh, and an out-of-work newspaperman, Pete Galton. The relationships of these four people under one roof add up to a fast-paced story that is not only satisfying fiction but a rare window on Bohemian life in the late 1950s. A drug-fueled rent-party-turned-orgy at the apartment of one Fred Koans is just link to a world some older readers may recall.
Gay Street, in the heart of Greenwich Village, runs for only a single block between Christopher Street and Waverly Place. The 1943 movie A Night to Remember portrays 13 Gay Street as the address of the building where most of the action, including a murder, occurs. In 1996, Sheryl Crow made a video on Gay Street for the song "A Change Would Do You Good."
21 Gay Street, a very early Lawrence Block novel, was originally published under the pen name Sheldon Lord. It was never reprinted after its initial publication in 1960, and this marks its first appearance in 56 years. As such, it seems an ideal choice to lead off Lawrence Block’s Collection of Classic Erotica, and the book's original cover, with a painting by the great Paul Rader, is reproduced
Probably not a book I would have considered buying in all honesty. I've a fair few of Lawrence Block's later (and probably better) books on the shelves which are singing out to me more. However a chance of a couple of freebie download codes offered on one of the author's recent newsletters had me greedily reaching out. Nothing to lose plugging the phone into the car stereo for the 20 minute journey to and from work.
After a slow start I quite liked it. There's no crime, no mystery, no thrills, not really any erotica or soft porn to titillate really, I'm guessing what was risque nearly 60 years ago is incredibly tame these days. All described action is strictly above the waist.
More a tale of the inhabitants of 21 Gay Street....... a pair of lesbians - one loving and faithful, the other loving but with a wandering eye, a newbie girl to New York - friendless and lonely and an unemployed newspaperman turned writer - looking for inspiration and no frills sex from successful pick-ups.
Drinking, bars, drug use, taxi rides and chatty cabbies, pick-ups, relationships, guilt and remorse for past actions, job dissatisfaction, sadness, sex, an orgy invitation, orgy participation and the aftermath.
After an initial introduction which doesn't bode well for a future lasting relationship, Pete and NYC newcomer, Joyce connect and leave the embarrassment of an orgy behind them and develop feelings for each other. Sex turning to warmth, passion, consideration, care and eventually love. Two of Gay Street's inhabitants find each other and move on. The beginning of the journey for the new inhabitants of 21 Gay Street brings this one to a close.
I do kind of wonder if it is kind of semi-autobiographical in nature. Pete is a young unpublished writer struggling with a first novel and under Joyce's tutelage starts crafting stories for monthly magazines and paychecks, aided by Joyce's knowledge of the market from her job at such a publisher. Lawrence Block's story might be similar. That said I can't vouch for any participation by him in New York village orgies in the late 50s/early 60s or that said at any point in his life.
Smooth narration by Dana Roth contributed to nearly 6 hours of listening fun.
3 from 5
Read - (listened to) August, 2019
Published - 1962 (maybe earlier judging by Mr Block's notes above)
Page count - 184 (or 5 hours, 54 minutes)
Source - author via an assistant with a download code
Format - Audible