So often when we discuss (great) works of (terrible) literature, one wonders: why did this book come to be? Is the author genuinely attempting to save helpless young women from falling prey to the dangers of the big city? Is the author going through an expensive divorce? Is the author’s older brother a serious novelist who always gets served first at family reunions? Is the author trying to see what happens when you pair ‘shrooms and tequila? Or, perhaps, a glorious mishmash of the above, for are we not all palimpsests even unto ourselves? (THOMAS HARDY, you guys.) The lovely thing about the EXQUISITE Naked Came the Stranger, you see, is how it neatly resolves the question of its own existence: the author was bored, and by “the author,” we mean “a bunch of guys working for Newsday.” Twenty-five guys, in total, led by the recently deceased Mike McGrady, who enlisted his hot sister-in-law to play the part of “Penelope Ashe” for meetings with agents and publishers. (We do not think those are her actual buttocks on the cover, but we’re prepared to be corrected.) McGrady’s promise to his co-writers, as laid out in a memo: “There will be an unremitting emphasis on sex. Also, true excellence in writing will be quickly blue-penciled into oblivion.”
Now, my intention is to treat Naked Came the Stranger like any other work of Classic Trash (and a work I had to pay thirty-five bucks for, since it’s out of print, mind you) and not to get too bogged down in its hoax-iness. Can a novel even be a hoax? Being intentionally bad and unwittingly fabulous isn’t a crime, my dears. I first encountered Naked Came the Stranger in 11th grade, while reading the sort of hoax-compendium that got totally decimated by the invention of Wikipedia. That same book earned me the eternal enmity of my sociology teacher, who was trying to teach us about the Tasaday people and what they had to tell us about the merits of an all-yam diet and how to live in harmony with our surroundings. Unfortunately (for him, obviously I was thrilled), our textbook was substantially more out-of-date than my snarky book about hoaxes, so I got to say “Mr. Owennnnnnn, these people were just put up to this whole schtick, none of this is real.” And now, of course, apparently we think the hoax was a hoax and maybe the Tasaday were real after all. SORRY, Mr. Owen.
At any rate, the late 1960s were a golden era of terrible writing. Terrible writers wandered the streets like medieval bards, crafting tales of buxom women and mustache-twirling cads and colorful pills and illegitimate children marked by the stain of incest. Into this bubbling chasm of depravity dropped Naked Came the Stranger like…. any other terrible book. Can you tell that each chapter was by a different journalist? Not really. Are the sex scenes worse than sex scenes ever are? No. Is there any discernible reason that Fifty Shades of Grey is “real,” and Naked Came the Stranger is “fake”? Nah. We’re through the looking glass here, people.
Obviously, you want to get as quickly as possible to the context-free excerpts, correct? Let’s not waste much time on plot; McGrady & Co. certainly didn’t. Our heroine is Gillian Blake, a newcomer to King’s Neck, Long Island. She and her husband William host a radio show titled “The Billy & Gilly Show.” William cheats on her. Gillian, outraged, proceeds to screw her way through the various men of King’s Neck for 241 pages, each one a gem; a mostly unrelated gem. Are you following me so far? If you’re wondering why she doesn’t get a divorce, it’s because she can’t bear to kill their radio show.
CONTEXT-FREE EXCERPTS FROM NAKED CAME THE STRANGER
• On the dedication page: “To Daddy.”
• “She was driving, floating actually, toward her new house, floating past the freshly butchered lawns dotted with the twisted golden butts that were the year’s first fallen leaves, past the homes built low and the swimming pools and the kempt hedges and all the trappings that went into the unincorporated village of King’s Neck.”
• “Her skin, the color of India tea at summer’s end, flowed nicely over a slender frame. The breasts were small but she wore them well at age twenty-nine. Her legs were superbly designed. The hips, though trim, were deceptively full.”
• “She knew she had aroused the creature in the torn paint-spattered T-shirt.”
• “I’ve fucked more broads than the sultan of Baghdad or somewhere. And I’ve fucked your kind before. You broads who think your ass is made of gold because you went to college.”
• “With that he thrust Gillian back onto the bed and made a flying leap with the clear intent of pinning her down to stay. But she swerved to one side and the holy man, stiff with lust, came down standard-first on the bedpost. For a full two minutes he did not rise; he lay there, crumpled up, hissing incoherently.”
• “Then he pulled off the black net panties — there was a cellophane sound as they were peeled past her knees.”
• “She was at that moment gently massaging him at his point of greatest altitude with a bottle of pink Johnson & Johnson baby lotion.”
• “Then methodically she drained him a second time, emptied him, calmed him and gentled him.”
• “She stretched the tiny member to its full length, and it seemed to shrink even more in embarrassment.”
• “But he knew nothing would happen. Not with a woman. He simply couldn’t.” (He could.)
• “Christ, but she was good. She was better than Hank! Oh my God! Oh! Oh! Oh my God!”
• Which book (other than Fifty Shades of Grey) would you be least surprised to learn was written by a bureau of hard-drinking 1960s journalists as a lark?
• My satellite dish shifted in a windstorm, depriving me of exactly one channel: Bravo. Does this mean there is, in fact, a God?
• A vengeful God?
• If you found out your radio co-host was stepping out on you, what form would your vengeance take?
• Gillian is kind of like that weird race of aliens in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” where the women have the ability to transform themselves in order to perfectly suit a mate. Remember? The Enterprise was supposed to be transporting one of them to her new husband, but she falls in love with Picard and molds to him instead? But they can never be together? That was a great episode.
• Has anyone ever shoved a handful of ice cubes into your rectum during sex? Gillian swears by it.
• Did anyone else keeping seeing Kristen Wiig as Gilly?
• Are you watching “Miss Advised”? I’m not, because I don’t have Bravo now. Tell me about it!
• Gillian has sex with her abortionist. Can you think of another novel in which a character has sex with her abortionist?
• Why can’t Gillian leave even the poor, extraordinarily stereotypical Fire Island gays alone?
And next time, let’s stick with bed-hopping and vengeance and do Mists Of Avalon, shall we?
Previously: Gone With The Wind