A WOMAN MUST LOVE is #12 in the Collection of Classic Erotica, and it’s never been reissued since Midwood brought it out in 1960. Consequently I’ve just read it for the first time since I wrote it some 57 years ago.
I remember the circumstances of writing it. I was living in Buffalo, at 422 Starin Avenue, in the house where I grew up. Besides writing, I was co-proprietor of a coffee house and non-alcoholic nightclub called The Jazz Center. (We hosted some decent musicians. Trumpeter Sammy Noto, who’d quit Stan Kenton’s band because he didn’t like living on the road, led one combo that played our joint with some frequency. Another band was fronted by a dude known alternately as Tommy Green, Tommy Mundy, and Ahmed Khan; his specialty was bongos and bullshit, but he had some good musicians working for him. One night Percy Heath of the Modern Jazz Quartet came by late, sat in with our guys, and played a twenty-minute bass solo that I wish I could hear again. That part was nice, but we never took a dime out of the place, and after I sold my interest to my partner, an old Trotskyite named Frank St. George, he wound up making the musicians partners so he wouldn’t have to pay them. After he was forced to close down, Frank went on to have a distinguished career as a Buffalo restauranteur.)
See, that much I remember. And I remember my writing schedule at the time. I would be at the club, or out on the town with the unfortunate young woman destined to become the first Mrs. Block. Then I’d get home, and I’d have a cup of coffee with my night owl mother before she went to bed around midnight. Then I’d write until dawn, when I’d have breakfast with my early-rising father. And then I’d go to bed and sleep until it was time to get up and do it all over again.
As for the novel itself, A WOMAN MUST LOVE, I can’t say I remembered much. It’s set in Buffalo, in the very neighborhood in which it was written, and I hadn’t even recalled that about the book until I read it on my Kindle. I vaguely remembered that there was a book in which I’d given all the characters English and Irish counties as surnames, and this seems to be the book. Aside from those two elements, I felt like the old boy in the assisted-living center, meeting new people every day.
I was surprised to be reading less the erotic romp the Midwood and Nightstand books tended to be than an out-and-out romance novel. Barbara, a young widow, has vowed to be true to her husband’s memory (even though he’d wished otherwise). She’s courted, and she has a couple of adventures, and there’s a certain amount of coupling in the book of one sort or another, but the damn thing’s a romance, and I have to wonder how I came to write it.
It would have been about a year later that my own father died—suddenly, of an aortic aneurysm. In the years that followed I might well have gone through some sort of Hamlet/Oedipus crap when my mother resumed dating, though I can’t recall much in the way of conflicted feelings. But the book was way earlier, and where the story came from I have no idea.
Well, never mind. I hope you’ll find things to enjoy in Barbara’s story—not least of all Paul Rader’s cover art. Long after I’d forgotten the words I wrote, I remembered those vivid pastels.
Not one of my favourite Lawrence Block books, but I was entertained as well as troubled in equal measures with this one.
Obviously it was aimed at the adult soft porn (erotic) market of the day and during the course of the book we have a widow finding out that her vow to stay faithful to her dead husband's memory is sorely tested. Eventually she succumbs and thereafter she has a series of midly titillating encounters with a boiler repairman, and a couple of teachers from the school where she works - one female, one male, before she eventually decides she isn't gay. Her boyfriend and her then presumably go off page to live life happily ever after, now she has finally put her guilt and bereavement behind her.
I think what troubled me is the second encounter with the boiler man where he forces himself on her. Comforted by her friend, within x number of hours she's enjoying a romp with her compadre. I suppose it's indicative of the times and I'm applying 2020 20-20 vision to the attitudes and mores of sixty years ago. It's almost as if rape can be quickly dismissed and gotten past. I doubt very much that life works that way. The attack is cruel, brutal and violent, and you would have to believe our main character is suitably traumatised.
Maybe I'm over thinking things and should just consume a dated piece of work, attempt to apply some context to the book and its audience and the time it was written and move on.
I enjoyed portions of the book. The main character suffers loss, survives it, comes to terms with her new reality, and decides to carry on living life and enjoying it. The end.
3 from 5
Read - (listened to) November, 2020
Published - 1960
Page count - 168 (4 hrs 21 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible