By Derryll White
Hunter, Evan and Ed McBain (2001. Candyland – A Novel In Two Parts
I was drawn to this book by the idea of two well-known authors consulting with each other on the subject of power and business in America. I wanted to see if I could determine how they collaborated; how they mingled their voices.
So after reading the first six chapters I have figured out that this collaboration is pretty loose. Evan Hunter has taken the lead, using 150 pages to artfully describe a screwed-up, big name Los Angeles architect who is consumed by sex. After doing some damage to his mental stability, Hunter leaves his character departing from a soulful black hooker who has dug him out of the gutter after a fearful beating. Clearly Ben Thorpe does not think with his upper extremities.
Then Ed McBain takes over and it becomes clear that it is collaboration in only the loosest sense. Evan Hunter builds a complex picture of a man dazzled by his own powers of professional achievement and depleted by his overwhelming need for sex. McBain builds a tag-on story constructed around police procedures and a large amount of marginal description. McBain pays lip service to Hunter’s work but the two never really come together.
This was a futile read for me. I anticipated some interesting writing and the inter-weaving of long established talents. What I got was two incomplete novellas that made little attempt to come together. I felt Evan Hunter did some very good work in creating the character of Ben Thorpe. In the end, though, I was frustrated and disappointed and would not recommend Candyland to anyone.
Excerpts from the novel:
PICK-UP – “Are you a working girl,” he whispers.
“Yeah,” she says, and pulls a face. “But I hate the job, truly.”
He looks at her. This is the first time in all his experience that he’s heard a hooker complain about the job.
“I’m a phlebotomist,” she says.
“Ah – you’re a nurse.”
“NO - I just draw blood. P-H-L, phlebotomy. It’s from the Greek word for blood-letting.”
“Yes. But I’m not a nurse. I just go from floor to floor, taking blood. It’s a part-time job. I start at 5 a.m. and I quit at nine. The hospital pays me thirty bucks an hour.”
MEN – It is true that he seeks women.
Constantly. This is an undeniable fact…. To Ben, the world is an immense chocolate shop brimming with confectionery delights. The trick is in knowing which delectable sweet to select, which dark candy to sample.
MORALS – ….White, Black, Latino, Asian, you pays your money and takes your choice. It always amazes Ben that politicians get all exorcised by dirty movies or television shows, and local watchdog groups take ‘Catcher in the Rye’ off library shelves when you can go to any city in the United States of America and find hundreds of advertisements for escort services or massage parlors right in the goddamn Yellow Pages.
SEMANTICS – He prefers to use the word “visited” instead of “frequented”, a more heavily freighted word. “Frequented” might imply that he’s been to the same whore house more than once, which is not the case, except on a few occasions he’s already forgotten.
INFIDELITY – “How long you been doing this, Ben?”
“I think you know doing what.”
“Too long,” he says.
“You care what she thinks?”
“Then fuck it. Tell her the truth.”
“That’d be the end.”
“Maybe it’s already the end.”
He looks at her. Maybe it is, he thinks.
SEX – It occurs to him that their only lingua franca is sex. This is not surprising. Sex is Lokatia’s profession and sex is his preoccupation, so why shouldn’t they understand each other. The dialogue here is free and easy; there is no need for either a translator or interpreter.
NOMENCLATURE – Until 1988, it was called the Sex Crimes Squad. She guesses Special Victims sounds more politically correct. Manzetti’s squad used to be called Homicide North. Now it’s Manhattan North Homicide Task Force, which makes it sound like an invading army.
WOMEN – Women learn to smile.
Stare at any woman for longer than 10 seconds, she’ll smile at you. This goes back to the Dark Ages, where rape wasn’t called rape, it was called courtship. You smiled because you were begging for mercy. Please sir, I’m a nice girl, I’m smiling. Please don’t court me, sir.
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