I hate to say it, but the greatest pleasure I got from reading Lustful Summer was the fact that the copy I scored is in mint condition. I regretted opening it because it will never be quite as perfect as it was when I opened the package.
This book is almost as old as I am, and there are very few things left in this world from 1958 that are mint condition, and not many of those are paperbacks. I wonder how this copy survived the last 50-plus years without a scratch, and fantasize about a box of paperbacks from some Avon Books distributor forgotten for decades and then chanced upon by some lucky dealer. I picture seeing Lustful Summer next to Death Hits The Jackpot (Avon T-280) and Honeymoon Guide (Avon T-282, featuring Harold Meyers’ “Spicy gags and cartoons”). Perhaps I should have framed it instead, although I can’t imagine where my wife would have tolerated it.
Sadly, Lustful Summer is of greater interest as an object than a novel. It starts out with promise, with a voice that seems worth hearing more from:
If you are pretty, too many men try from the first minute of meeting to get at you. They crowd a girl too much. Because I was pretty they were always buzzing in my ear that I could have whatever I wanted….
This is a voice with some sass and spirit: “they crowd a girl…. they were always buzzing in my ear.” A voice that will take the world from a different angle. A voice that could spin a story that could hold up for 150 pages or so.
But it doesn’t even last through the first page:
Then I ran past it without recognizing it, so now I don’t even have anything like beautiful memories. The best memories I have hurt me. They hurt bad.
This stinks. It stinks bad.
Lustful Summer is about the short, awkward, and tedious love affair between Laila–our narrator–and Bruce, a married man who’s abandoned his wife to pursue his apparently muted passion to be a painter. We can at least be grateful that Bruce isn’t pursuing a passion to be a writer, given the kind of garbage he dumps out in an early love letter:
Beauty is the Mother. You send them forth and call them back. The dynamo that lights this sacrilegious island by night and illuminates the pageant of doormen shooing to their lust the handsome Westerners and the elastic and steel blondes. Makes the light by which I see the toothless pucker, blood-fringed, in the face of a drunk sleeping on Third Avenue.
What woman on Earth would take that kind of prose as anything but the ranting of a stalker?
John O’Hara took a character similar to Laila and wrote a pretty decent novel, BUtterfield 8, around her.
Read it instead.