A few years back I had a firm notion that it would be fun to go back in time and review a few of the books that had begat some of the films I had reviewed. I guess this idea was like taking the proverbial cart you had placed before the horse and trying to hitch it back up where it belonged..
I had actually thought of reviewing some books way before that but there was some things standing in my way: age and time. I simply could not work a full time job, write blog articles, deal with life, read some novels and put forth my wisdom on what I had just read. I’m still working a full time job, still writing on a blog, and trying to find ways to have the energy left to enjoy life. I’m also 68, tire easily, and have to deal with arthritic pain on a minute by minute basis.
I made up my mind that when I started this Word Press blog, I was going to give it my best effort and part of that was getting back to reading and writing.
The original plan back in the day was to start this project with a book called First Love and Other Sorrows: Stories written by Harold Brodkey. Part of the novel was the basis for a film called First Love (1977) for which I had written a lengthy retrospective and promised that I would review the book if ever I got around to reading it.
This was back in 2014 when I purchased the novel for less than $3.00 on my ancient and long ago disposed of Original Kindle Reader handed down to me by my son who moved on up to bigger and better Amazon crap. I did read it though. I just never got around to writing about it. I’ll probably have to skim through it again if I want to write up a review. You can always beat me to the punch as this collection of sometimes connected short stories will now set you back a little over ten bucks on the Kindle. Paperback is $12.99. Hardcover is $855 for a copy that I doubt is hot off the presses. If you want to read Where the Boys Are along with me, the picture above links to the product.
Where the Boys are was written by Glendon Swarthout. It is not his only brush with Hollwood as several of his other tomes have been churned int re-manufactured cinematic fodder.
I have seen two of these films: Bless the Beasts and the Children and The Shootist which also happens to have been John Wayne’s last film. I may have also viewed some of the others but my memory does not serve me well. I have seen Where the Boys Are many times over the years. I suppose you could call it a guilty pleasure in some ways. It’s the young cast that brings that film alive as the plot doesn’t exactly have a lot of depth to it. So when I read Swarthout’s original novel I expected much more depth in the story telling department. You know what they say. Be careful what you wish for.
Unlike the film version, where we followed three main characters, each with their own story and plot line, the novel is told in the first person by Merrit or Merritt if you prefer. (In the Kindle text it’s spelled with one t. Everybody who writes about it spells it with two t’s. If I spell it with one t, then Word underlines it in red just to annoy me. So whatever floats your boat. I’ll use two T’s just to avoid the annoyance.) As far as I can remember Swarthout is kind of cagey with Merrit’s last name, and I don’t believe it is mentioned in the novel. We find out later the mystery of Tuggle’s being called (No first name) Tuggle. All the guys have first and last names though. Why? Hell, I don’t know. Maybe Swarthout was just sexist.
Merritt and Tuggle are in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, spending their spring break away from the U. Which U? I don’t know as Merritt is never specific but you can take it to the Bank that the “U” is a reasonable facsimile of the University of Michigan where Swarthout hails from.
Eliza Hickok Swander who was the first woman prof at the school and back around 1870 or 1900 invented a spray to protect snap beans from the black blight or something and also left a swad of money to the U as the result of picking up a lot of prime real estate adjacent to campus; there are a thousand girls divided into eighteen precincts, or cell blocks, and hutched three to a room in rooms designed for two, which enables the alma mater to pay off the mortgage on the dorm faster. Three girls to two desks and two closets and one phone buzzer and one window and you begin to be as claustrophobic as the clown walled up alive in “The Cask of Amontillado.” How can you have solitude? How can you have dignity? You cannot even contemplate in the bique. Perpetual buddy-buddy is enough to make anyone a misanthrope. But the most spastic thing about East Swander is that you have to maturate simultaneously with a thousand other girls while every species of adult yammers at you to get the show on the road. With their proverbs and hard-knocks diplomas and homilies on conduct parents can be dismal enough, but profs, tossing out a challenge per lecture, are the absolute bottom.
And as if that is not bad enough:
“Living in this is like being in the belly of a pregnant pig, with the whole wriggling litter squealing to be born, while outside, in the pen, society kicks hell out of the poor sow to speed up the process.
Merritt and Tuggle’s college sounds more like they’re living in Folsom Prison than being there to actually learn anything. She never asks herself the most pertinent question: Why the hell did I come here? But there are other reasons to head to Florida.
Why do they come to Florida? Physically, to get a tan. The weather up north is simply unknown that time of year; snow and slush and cold and Gothic; the perfect climate for exams and suicides. Also, they are pooped. Many have mono. Psychologically, to get away. They have just finished mid-semesters or finals and they have personal problems to escape from or try to solve and besides, what else is there to do except go home and further foul up the parent-child relationship? Another thing, they need to recuperate from our new national disease, peopleosis, which is to the spirit what mono is to the student body.
And why else are they there? Because that’s where the boys are and the dating scene at U is one big hassle.
Life is like a long blind date. The Social Chairman of a boys’ dorm calls the Social Chairman of a girls’ dorm and says he needs some flesh for Friday night, no foul balls, nothing too brainy, all queens and amenable, can she supply? And she says yes, she can, but what about the boys, the girls will want vital data and stuff. To which he snorts what for, they’ll be seminal, and hangs up. You are some of the flesh supplied. You wonder what the boy will be like, what will happen on the date, where you’ll go, what you’ll do, will it be great or the all-time fall-through, and Friday night you tear around like wild getting ready to be beautiful. The buzzer rings. You make an entrance and meet him. You go somewhere and do something. Maybe you have a real ball, maybe it’s hell, maybe both. But no matter what, before you can really know each other, you and life or you and your date, you’ve mingled or said no and it’s over.
It reads like an episode synopsis of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. In that respect, Merritt’s ahead of her time. If you take Merritt’s word for it college guys and girls in the early sixties didn’t have much to think about beyond dating and whatever goes along with it. And it seems that the girls were supposed to be at the beck and call of the male students.
Merrit is roughly halfway through her first year of college and has of yet picked a major. Those kind of annoyances don’t seem to matter as much when you’re in Florida, boy hunting, and your fondest dream possible is to snag an Ivy League Fellow who is intelligent and rich and wants their partner to pump out lots of babies. You’re not on the beach in a bikini to study College Home Economics for Women.
Merrit goes into a long Dickensian Soliloquy describing Florida, how great it is, what the scenery is just in case you’ve never been there. (Let me sum it up: Palm Trees, Water, and Sand out the wazoo.) This is something that happens quite often in this book, as Merritt often unexpectedly goes on a tangent, but in this instance we only need to digest her two sentence summation. Important because it’s a statement that after you read it, you’ll be left scratching your head over it by the end of the book.
“Let’s face it, the world would be much more interesting convenient and flat. Plus I think it would be good for men to know their limitations.”
If you want to get somewhat of an idea of Meritt’s physical appearance, you’d better erase the memory of Dolores Hart from your brain. She describes herself thus:
“I am five nine in heels, and weigh in at one thirty-six. My statistics are 37-28-38. I wear an 8 1’2 B shoe. I may not be feminine but I am damn ample.”
By comparison, Kate Upton clocks in at 5 foot 10, 141 pounds, wears a size 8 shoe, and measures up to 39-28-36. Merritt would seem to be just one partial degree of separation from Kate Upton, who wasn’t even born yet
While sunbathing on the beach with thousands of other college students, they meet up with TV Thompson,
TV Thompson is a tall lanky fellow who gets where he wants to go by pretending to be blind. He can walk across the crowded beach unimpeded because when it comes to a blind person, the students clear a path like the parting of the Red Seas by Moses. He plops himself down on Merrit’s blanket, flips up his lenses to reveal he’s not blind, and orders Merritt to peel the skin off his back. Maybe back in the sixties it was comical but I find it all kind of gross. And I have to believe that even then most girls would have made a terrible face and pushed TV away. Not Merritt though. She just peels away.
When Merritt questioned him about the fake blind bit, he simply responds that the best thing you can do in life is to let other people be charitable. He then tells this story about how he wrote a letter to one Barbara Hutton, a celebrity whining because she was on her third divorce.
“For example, I was sitting around late in this radio and TV station one Sunday night reading the papers and there was an article about Barbara Hutton and her third divorce. She said she was very unhappy because she had led a tragic life. It ticked me off. So I wrote her a post card saying Dear Miss Hutton, you and your goddam tragic life, with all your collateral what have you got to bitch about? Here I am, a kid about to graduate from high school who can’t even swing one year’s college tuition. The kick was, on my way home from the station I mailed the card. I hadn’t planned to, I just wrote it to get a catharsis of the emotions, but I did.”
TV excuses himself once again by explaining that Miss Hutton felt better now that she had helped him out and was able to be so charitable. But the more of these tales we hear, the less we think of Thompson as just an odd character but a lifelong manipulator who achieves every one of his life goals by conning others
Living underneath Merritt’s and Tuggles’s apartment at the Shalimar are Maxine and Suzy. Since they are from Michigan State they are able to clue Merritt in on the comings and goings of one TV Thompson.
He had paid for his first year from the sale of faked ID or identification cards so kids under twenty-one could buy liquor and his sophomore year by getting up an inter-dormitory radio station which provided music for studying and between records oblique references to local dry cleaners and pizza palaces. The center of his empire, his dorm room, was reputed to be as frenetic and entrepreneurial as the head office of A. T. & T. He aced his courses without buying books. He was elected president of the freshman class and impeached for rigging the election. Ditto the sophomore class. Whenever the school was about to toss him he solidified himself with the Dean of Students in some way like breaking up a pantie raid on the girls’ dorms by delivering an impassioned address on responsible citizenship to the nylon-maddened mob of boys. Why he was called TV they did not know.
At the beach, Tuggle asks TV how he was funding College for the current year. After proclaiming that a high I.Q. is worse than bad breath, TV explains that he is selling tests. In this scenario he finds someone who will score a 0 on a corporate personality test because that’s what companies desire. Someone with a generic nonthreatening personality. TV pays a such a guy ten bucks to take the test, and then charges those in need a hundred dollars to take it back to the recruiter.
At this point, it is quite obvious that TV is not a just some whimiscal character, but a guy who has planned and schemed his way through life, always at the expense of others. Ethics? Probably not in his vocabulary.
Despite the fact that she doesn’t particularly care for his looks or his ethics, Merritt agrees to go dating around Ft. Lauderdale with TV. They begin at the Sand Crab, an infamous bar that has a seating capacity of 30 but during spring break squeezes in a 100 kids.
It is here that TV tells Merritt the story of a hitchhiking kid who was going to Cuba to join in the Cuban Revolution. You remember that one, I’m sure. It’s the one where they traded one dictator tyrant named Batista for a worse dictator tyrant by the name of Castro. TV calls this kid’s mission epic. Merritt is impressed. I see it as just another tool of TV’s attempt to manipulate Merritt.
Later in the novel we find out that Merritt has an IQ of 132 and was class valedictorian. Impressive, but at this point it looks like she kept her IQ locked up in a vault back at “U”. However, in her and TV’s favor is the fact that they have come to the conclusion that God is actually Walt Disney which is quite funny when you think of it. Savor the moment.
After leaving the bar and heading out in TV’s Porsche, Merritt dares to ask him why she invited her along. TV says it’s her sincerity and Merritt is impressed by that while I’m thinking, “Girl, he’s the one who should be grateful that you left the sand, sun, and fun of the beach to spend the day in a dark, way over crowded bar drinking beers and spending a long time talking about things that in the end, add up to nothing.” If there’s one thing Merritt is lacking despite her big talk it is self-confidence.
Neither of them having swam in a pool before (no, I’m not being sarcastic), they end up going from one luxury pool after another, where they swim, make out, talk, swim, talk some more until they run out of swimming pools. The gruesome twosome finally end up on a hotel terrace overlooking a harbor, where they stretch out, converse, and TV tells Merritt his woeful tale of how he raped a coed and sent her a Color TV as payment hoping it was enough to keep him out of prison.
And does Merritt tell him to take her home? Does she run off and catch a bus or a cab? No, after boohooing some sympathetic tears for his “misfortune” they end up having sex and at this point there’s no way this book is going to recover from this idiotic moment. It’s not just misguided on her part after everything he’s told her. It’s inexplicablen although Merritt has excuses .
1. I was flaked out from no sleep and the poolathon.
2. We had solitude.
3. Hunger. A girl cannot count on the calories in potato chips.
4. Beaucoup beers.
5. The sun lounge was very comfortable.
6. I was so sunburned my skin was extrasensory.
I’m often told that it is necessary to place myself in the era in which a book was written to understand it. That may be true, but when I do I expect the characters to have some consistency in their thoughts and actions. Remember Merritt’s little proclamation that it was good for a man to know there are limits. How can they know their limits when you follow along like a whipped pup? Oh, you raped a girl? No worries. I’ll give it to you and you don’t even have to send me an $800 TV set.
After excusing her own behavior Merritt then proceeds to let us know why we should all look on TV/Herbert with sympathy as she does. Even to the point where there are possible wedding bells ringing in her ears.
Upon returning to their apartment at the Shalimar, and after eyeballing Suzie getting plastered with beer in the swimming pool hopping from lap to lap with the three guys claiming to be Ivy Leaguers, Merritt makes her way upstairs to fill Tuggle in on her date with TV, leaving out the part where she batter-dipped TV’s corn dog. This later turns out to be a big mistake on Merritt’s part. Tuggle has vowed to make it through their Florida vacation the chaste way even though she’s not a virgin but has “tried everything else”.
The next day at the beach with Tuggle waiting for TV to show up, Merritt finally has a meet cute with her Ivy League dreamboat in the form of Ryder Smith, Brown University. He plops himself down on her blanket and they proceed to write question marks in the sand.
In this case, unlike Merritt, you can use the above photograph of George Hamilton to form a clear picture of Ryder in your mind. Her description is exactly this:
We sat up simultaneously and had one of those horrible-wonderful moments when two human beings sort of gulp each other like malts. Even sitting down I could tell he was not tall; a little more than my height; but his build was dreamy, he took a tan well, and he was not overhirsute. His trunks were simple black nylon and from the way they hugged his waist you knew that on him Ivy League clothes would belong. In an unstriking, casual way he was the handsomest boy in my total experience. And one of the finest things about him was the way he onced me over. Most boys stare you stark naked with all the finesse they use to tear off a sweatsock. But his inspection was so oblique, so polite, so practically disinterested that it was as though he had said please allow me to remove your swim suit momentarily and I had replied but of course. It was complete, though. And when the wonderful-horrible moment was ended he gave me a slow smile featuring white, even teeth.
Who knew that getting a little sand in your fingernails would lead to instant romantic infatuation? Dare I say love? Yes you dare, as Merritt professes her love for him to us if not to him by the time they reach a bar called The Sheikh, way swankier than the dungeonesque setting at the Sand Crab the previous day. Ryder is not at a loss for words when it comes to talking about his ritzy upbringing, his ritzy life at Brown U, the ritzy time he spent playing volleyball on the floor of the Roman Coliseum while vacationing in Italy, and the pure ritziness of just being ritzy.
As for the “U” Merritt goes to, he’s never heard of it and to be honest, we don’t know the name of that haven for wayward females either and we’re well into this book. I guess this is going to be something like Penny Hofstadter in Big Bang Theory. We never found out her maiden name in twelve years so the name of Merritt’s place of high learning must not be important. But if you still want to know the name, don’t be sad. Just a year after Big Bang left the air we still sit around and muse about Penny’s real last name.
They are only at The Sheikh for a short time (thank God for that) before Ryder takes Merritt to his home with a luxury yacht parked out back. What’s hard to figure is why Ryder has a 55 Chevy and TV Thompson had a Porsche. Go figure.
But, its not his house and not his yacht. They belong to his Uncle who wants Ryder to take over his business but you kind of get the feeling Ryder’s not into doing that much work. You could say Ryder is staying there on an Uncle Visa.
Having shown Merritt the castle, Ryder takes her on a tour of the Smith Family Dingy tied to the dock out back. The name of the boat is the S.S. Tool to Pry Your Pants Off. Yeah, I’m kidding. It’s actually called Altaxia II. I guess they named it that because his Uncle Warbucks is gonna tax the hell out of his workers to pay for it.
On the boat Ryder gets to the million dollar question that you already know the answer to: “Merritt, will you sleep with me?”
After a lot of yakking and meaningless questions and answers Merritt tells him: “Take me to your bedroom, rip my clothes off and savage my body.” Yeah, you wish.
Of course, she doesn’t say that, just a simple, “I’d Love to, Ryder.” But if I had written this book it would be a helluva lot more entertaining and I wouldn’t be struggling to write this review at the moment.
Later that evening, Merritt expecting to get screwed in Cinderella’s castle, gets screwed over instead. Ryder takes her to a cheap motel with some flimsy excuse about not wanting to soil his Uncle’s hospitality. Interpreted he means he doesn’t want word to get around that he took a nobody wench from the “U” up into his castle. Merritt at first expects as much and then lets it slide because her massive 135 IQ was on vacation.
Ryder convinces Merritt to undress and get into bed naked so as not to soil her pretty dress. He spends about a page and a half filling Merritt’s head with total bullshit, while she goes off on another Dickensian Tangent about her days as a student teacher, before he finally gets down to business.
I had to face a bitter fact: inexperienced though I was, having been up to bat with only three boys, counting Ryder, I was already cosmopolitan enough to recognize that there is a difference in the way they make love. A single swallow may not make a summer but it may tell you a lot about the martini as a genre. The word for Ryder was efficient. He attended carefully to detail; he left nothing to chance or inspiration. It was as though he had planned a B average in bed. “Ryder, I wonder what I love most. You or what you stand for? I mean what you symbolize. Midwestern coeds have a vision of what Ivy League boys are like.
While chatting with Ryder in bed, it turns out that Merritt can also overhear a couple in the adjoining room. One of which coincidentally (very coincidentally) happens to be Susie, the young girl from the motel who was more or less being passed around by three guys supposedly from Yale. She is with a guy named Dill. Swarthout has Merritt write this in confusing overlapping dialogue as if he’s practicing to be Robert Altman before Robert Altman was Robert Altman. Once you muddle through this word soup and salad combo, you and Merritt realize that while Dill may be worse, Ryder and he both have the same opinion of Midwestern girls like Merritt and Suzy. Because of their big desire to marry into the elite Ivy League, they are just low lying fruit ripe for the picking at some dingy hotel on the far outskirts of Ft. Lauderdale. In other words, a girl from the Big Ten will drop her panties quicker than you can say Motel Bedbug.
Merritt, now having seen through the Charade that we had pegged way back when they were implanting question marks into the sand, jumps up, gets dressed and orders Ryder to take her home. But if you think that cured Merritt of her marriage fantasy, you would be highly naive. When they arrive back at the Shalimar, and having realized what a putrid womanizer Ryder is, she confesses that she still loves him but that her nooky box is under lock and key for the duration. The Duration being about two nights at the most.
Later in the evening when Tuggle arrives home we find out that since Merritt left TV Thompson to fend for himself, she decided to go in where Merritt had been, although she had no idea exactly how far Merritt had gone in or actually that would be how far TV had explored Meritt’s cave. After Merritt finds out that TV had used the same woe is me I need sympathy spiel to unlock the gates of Tuggle’s Kingdom, Merritt confesses to her own night of carnal carnage with TV the previous evening. And just like she did, Tuggle gave him the pooty even after he confessed to having comitted rape for an RCA Victor Grand Prize straight from The Price is Right. They boohoo, cry and lament the fact that they have taken a deep dive into promiscuity. This is where we also find out that Tuggle is a last name. She does have a first name and it’s Barbara. And so much for Barbara’s vow of chastity.
At this point, I wanted to erase this nonsense from my memory and from my Kindle Fire, not necessarily in that order. But I soldiered onward.
On day three of our Fort Lauderdale Travelogue, Merritt and Tuggle meet The Basil Demetomos Quartet that specializes in Dialectic Jazz. It’s safe to say that Dialectic Jazz was invented by Swarthout for his book, but made famous by the film version when Pete Rugolo musically covered for Basil and the gang.
Merritt finds Basil lacking a lot in the looks department.
“One of them was the hairiest boy I had ever been repelled by; his arms, chest, shoulders and even back were thicker than the jungles of Belgian Equatorial Africa.”
Basil and the gang invite everyone over to The Sheikh for beers and music. Not only does Basil’s Quartet supply the music they also supply the beers free of charge so that they can play what they want to when they want to and are not beholding to anybody. It turns out that Basil inherited an Uncle’s Restaurant or something like that and sold it so financially, he can afford to buy beers for a long long time. Once they are in the bar, Swarthout goes into full blown Dickens, with page after page of the following: The idiotic nonsense lyrics that the The Basil Demetomos Quartet is playing, Basil’s life story, a back and forth between Basil and Merritt as he tries to hit on her, and many paragraphs of Merritt’s philosophy of life which I suspect may closely parallel the same principles as that of the author. I felt like I was tied up in that bar longer than Rapunzel sat in that tower with her hair before the Prince came along.
At the same time that Basil is hitting on Merritt, one of his band members, Quentin, is enraptured by Tuggle. This despite the fact that Basil has forbidden any of his band members to date and that such things would be disloyal to him because he in fact, owns them. And of course, Basil wants a piece of the Merritt pie.
Toward the end of the day, Basil finally gets to the point, and I have to admit that I enjoyed the very quick back and forth between the two although again it’s a rather confusing conversation as written by Merritt/Swarthout. Luckily I’m here to straighten it out for you.
Basil: They like our sound.
Merritt: They like your beer.
Basil: Tell your friend to unhand Quent.
Merritt: You don’t own him.
Basil: I’ve paid for him.
Merritt: You live as you please.
Basil: I’m older.
Merritt: Jazz is a minor art.
Basil: Will you tell me how the good goddam any man in this century deserves a major art?
Merritt: Misanthrope. He seized my knee savagely under the table.
Basil: Big girl, date me.
Merritt: Let go.
Basil: Date me
Merritt: Or I’ll kick you.
Basil: I’ll take you into the alley and beat you.
Meritt: Greek beast.
Basil: Date me.
Merritt: I’d barf.
Merritt: I dislike you intensely.
Basil: But valid.
Basil: But rich.
Basil: Date me.
Merritt: Damn you, all right.
Basil: Tomorrow night.
Before we can get to that date, Merritt and Tuggle double date and go bar hopping with Ryder and TV. The date is more of the same. Ryder and TV vie for Merritt’s attention while she struggles to keep the two self-centered horny jackasses from coming to blows. It’s also a chance for author Swarthout to go off on another long-winded tangent by Merritt that leads nowhere, and is for the most part a bore. It’s like sticking an iceberg in the middle of your story and hitting it full steam ahead, thus bringing whatever interest you had in the proceedings to a crushing halt.
They finally end up at a bar that is also the home of Ramona the Sea Nymph, or The Scylla of Sex as Merritt prefers to call her. She does an underwater act in the swimming pool that is connected to the nightclub by a glass partition. In the middle of her act, TV takes a deep dive into the pool to chase after her, he is rewarded with a bop on the head, but is pulled safely out of the water.
The Sea Nymph joins the boresome foursome at their table where Ryder and TV can admire her lung capacity up close and personal. Once again we are given the Robert Altman type overlapping dialogue where we find out about The Scylla of Sex and her tool and die man from Altoona, and that Ramona, she of the pink hair, she of the screwball brain, and she with the obsession about wanting to help the Cuban Revolution. Somewhere in this mess of a conversation you can pull out TV trying to impress her with his repetitive rape story. Just once I wanted someone to stand up and tell him what a worthless sonofabitch he was for committing rape and rewarding his victim with an RCA Victor from behind door number three but we’re not about to get that.
The next evening, Merritt heads out to finish her trifecta with Basil. They end up on the beach, have some more boring pointless conversations that seem to go on forever, pay off a deputy so they can continue their laborious tête-à-tête(for us) get acquainted spiel (we don’t care) and finally head back to the Shalimar where there’s a party going on that leads to some guessing game based on charades called stockrades only kind of snobbish in its execution.
Quentin and Tuggle announce their undying love for each other, much to the chagrin of Basil:
But Basil, his face swarthy with anger, had Quentin by the necktie. “Traitor!” he thundered. “Give you a night off and look what the hell happens!” He whirled to Tuggle, went into his sparring stance, fists cocked. “He doesn’t know what love is, he’s just trying to crawl back into the womb.”
And remember Suzy, the boy toy for the guys from Yale? She’s headed for trouble according to her friend Maxine.
“I’m scared, I really am, Merrit,” she confided. “Susy’s out again with one of the Yalies, she is every night. They rotate. I think they take her to some motel up near Pompano Beach.”
“I’m sure of it. What panics me is that all three of them hand her the same line, that they love her and want to take her away from the provinces and the middle-class rat-race. But I heard them talking by the pool this morning. They called her a punchboard. What’s that?”
“I’m not sure,” I said, though I was.
And what are they going to do about helping some young impressionable naive college student? Not much, although it really wouldn’t be that difficult to fill the girl in on the fact that her Yale buddies had described her in a way that amounts to Suzy being nothing more than their own personal whore. Maxine, you’re a girl with a college education and you can’t figure out what a punch board is? Not to mention that Merritt doesn’t bother to explain it to her either. Her advice to Maxine to help her friend, “Hang in there.” No, I’m not kidding.
Eventually the party breaks up thanks to the threats of a couple in a nearby apartment that they’ll bring the police in because loud parties at two in the morning are not conducive to good sleeping habits. Basil and Merritt are left alone to continue their love hate back and forth, only interrupted by Basil singing her a love song. Finally, after what seems like an eternity of bullshit, Basil swoops in for the kill.
With all the deliberate speed of the Supreme Court he reached for me, drew me toward him, draped me over his lap like a heroine in a silent movie, and cradling my head in one hand kissed me as I had never been kissed in my eighteen years. Centuries re-died. Eras expired. “Big girl, I rejoice in you! That pelvis—infinite enough to mother a generation! Those breasts—glorious enough to suckle a race! That navel—sweet enough to hive bees! Upon you a man might sire a thousand consumers, people all the campuses in the country! You are majestic, Venusian…” Suffice to state that I found out exactly what her sensations would be: The First Girl To Reach Outer Space. Together Basil and I stumbled upon dialectic sex, which may be ancient to humanity but was new to us: the system of question and answer, of Toynbeean challenge-and-response by means of which, if each participant assists the other to win, to attain the goal, they can physically and truly go into an Orbit Of Bliss.
You just knew that when Merritt finally experienced the pièce de résistance of Florida Fornication, it would be with the guy she disliked the most. Think of that moment at the end of the first season of Cheers where Sam and Diane are battling like two wild cats but finish it off by falling into each other’s arms, hot heavy, and horny. Yeah, it’s that kind of thing. The heat of the argument leads to the heat of passion.
I’m reminded of a 1941 film where Ginger Roger had to choose between three different suitors who turned her on or about as much as one could get turned on in a movie made under the Hays Code. One was rich, one was poor, and one was somewhere in between. All done without playing bedroom tag. Such is the case with Merritt. One is the rich guy from the Ivy League, the other is a sympathetic manipulator, and then finally, the last one lights her fires in ways even Jim Morrison never envisioned.
The next day the whole gang gathers at the beach as they realize their Fort Lauderdale Vacation is coming to a close. Merritt has a heavy duty dilemma now that she’s offer up her pooty cake to three different guys. I wrote a note in the Kindle regarding the following Merrit musing. The note: This girl ain’t right in the head.
Our story would be written not in sand but in bluebooks. It would soon be over. I became even more emotionally confused. Now he would have to meet Basil as Basil had just had to meet Ryder. As he approached, the enormity of the arrangement made my teeth chatter. Not only had I been erotic with all three of them but I had also professed love to all three and meant it in the context of the situation and maybe still did and if they began comparing notes, what a classic confrontation! Merrit of the U in the middle of a quad!
The gang heads to Miami Beach with The Scylla of Sex to do some serious bar hopping. Ryder, spends the night telling Merritt about his outing with a female tennis player from Bennington who plays tennis with no strings in her racket. No, I’m not kidding.
“I had a terrible time last night, Merrit. This girl from Bennington, very avant-garde and all that, including dirty ears, then this morning we played tennis. I lied when I said she had a great backhand. She showed at the court with a racket with no strings, which she said was symbolic. What a weird game, me serving and her swinging and the ball whooshing right through her racket and her running around shagging balls until she nearly had a coronary. She said kids today don’t suffer enough. Those damn Bennington girls.”
Before it’s over with Merritt makes dates with both Ryder and Basil to wet their willies later that evening. Right in the middle of this, Ramona goes on and on abut the Cuban revolution which the college students and myself know almost nothing about. Although in my favor I know it didn’t end well and let to the reign of terror by one of Bernie Sander’s friends, Fidel Castro. But she somehow manages to lay a guilt trip on the gang for not having swam over to Cuba and had themselves riddled with bullet holes. Instead, they have an impromptu song fest where they help raise money for the cause. Sort of like Scarlet dancing with Rhett for the cause and just about as sincere. And none of it, absolutely none of it is entertaining, or interesting but perhaps you have to have been there.
Later on, Merritt and friends arrive back at The Shalimar just as Suzy is about to succumb to her suicide attempt, whereas she has tied herself to a lawn chair and tilted it over into the water. After having played a round robin tournament with the boys claiming to be from Yale, they decided they didn’t need her permission to entice her into a Motel Room, pump her up with alcohol, and then finishing their nauseating free for all by gang raping poor Suzy, the human punchboard.
To make matters worse, author Swarthout implies that this sordid bit of business while bad, was partially Suzy’s fault for daring to date three different guys during the same Florida Vacation. He puts forth this notion through the eyes of Merritt, who also has given away the honeypot making her three for three.
Merritt ponders the fact that it could have been her especially when you consider that she had recently committed to doing the rumpity pumpity with two of her beaus on the same night. Thus she draws the same parallel. Sleeping with more than one guy during a week in Florida is inviting trouble, whether you be Suzie Nobody or Merritt from the “Q”.
And I don’t give a damn if it is 1960, I find the whole thing infuriating. Is there any bad repercussions for any of the males in any of these scenarios? Not one iota. The Yale guys (if they ever were that) have come and gone. Suzie, after spending a few days recovering but having to live the rest of her life with the Ford Lauderdale Scarlet Letter of shame is sent back home with her friend Maxine. Of course, Suzy is given half the blame for her own predicament.
It was as Maxine had feared. It was the three Yalies, in rotation handing the innocent sophomore from Michigan State the ancient line about marrying her and taking her away from the Sinclair Lewis section and in the meantime making her a punchboard, the beasts. Tonight Dilworth, the one I had heard through the wall, had taken her to a motel for some shack and got her drunk; enter the other two, who tried to make a kind of obscene round-robin out of it. Finally, when she became hysterical, they brought her home. Susy knew at last what she had done and what had been done to her. She had gone to bed, then risen, put on her swim suit, tied herself to a chaise lounge, shoved it into the deep water, dragging herself under.
It’s the same old same old blame the victim horseshit that is still prevalent some 70 years later. We hear this now when a black man is shot in the back. If only he had done this. If only he had done that. And when a woman is assaulted, you can still hear the snide whispers of she was asking for it because you shouldn’t have been out drinking or you shouldn’t have been out fornicating with your boyfriends, or you shouldn’t be wearing a tight skirt way up your thigh. You would think we would have advanced in all these years. We haven’t, and this book unintentionally reinforces that idea. It is the fantasy novel of 60’s white males everywhere.
And whenever I thought of the parallels between Susy’s situation and mine I panicked. There had been three boys in her case, there were in mine. She had played house with all three. So had I, with one at the identical corrupt motel. And only her sad, suicidal deed had saved me tonight from a double entendre of my own. We were both from small towns, had never really traveled before, and were both amateurs at the roulette of the heart. But why, why, why had Susy lost her chips when I had won, or at least had been able to stay even with the game? It was so damn unfair. Then and there I decided to push for legalized prostitution to save boys from themselves but mostly to save girls like Susy.
Yes I have nothing against legalized prostitution, but to say it’s needed to save boys from themselves or that somehow it would put a rapist on the straight and narrow is the kind of logic you’ll only find in a book written by a man in 1960. And not for one minute did Merritt own up to the fact that she had sex with a confessed rapist.
But the story doesn’t end there. Ramona, with TV’s help, gets everybody except Ryder involved in a scheme to take weapons to the Cuban Revolution. Ryder is the only one who manages to keep his sanity as even Merritt, somehow inspired for no particular reason other than the fact that we all know her to be a flake, goes along with the idiotic scheme.
Ryder smiled adultly. “This is the stupidest. As a matter of fact, it’s kindergarten. In the first place why should any of these jokers down here volunteer when they’ll give blood to evade their own draft? In the second place you lose citizenship by bearing arms for a foreign power. In the third, I came to Florida to relax and decide a few things and if you think I’ll screw up the last two days of my vacation for a stunt as Boy Scout and yo-yo as this, you are stark raving. My God, it’s worse: it’s Big Ten. Merrit, are you coming?”
The Revolution rises high, falls, and then at the end rises before sinking mightily once and for all in a slapstick ending worthy of Abbot and Costello. It may be humorous, but the story doesn’t earn it.
Merritt gets three proposals, chief among them being one from Ryder. And she is left to ponder her decision. Then there is the other surprise that pops up in the last few pages. If you really want to know the outcome, send me a postcard.
Although Where the Boys Are Sparked my interest initially, most of it was a slog. Much of Merritt’s rambling musings about anything and everything and everybody and her fun times at college may be intriguing to some it didn’t ring my chimes. In fact, her stories of college days may have made some prospective high school graduates to reconsider their next move.
Much of it was much ado about nothing. Most of it not as funny as the author thinks it may have been, and some of it seems like it will never end. I think of it as something like this: “We interrupt this novel to bring you paragraph after paragraph, and page after page, of uninteresting dialogue, random meaningless humorless stories, overlapping dialogue, and many tales of woe and b.s.
Amazon says the paperback has a length of 248 pages, but it seemed like 648 pages. Four years ago when I decided to take on this project, I figured it would be a piece of cake. Not with this book. I struggled mightily to finish it but then I live in the world of 2020 and this was a best seller 70 years ago. It must have been the sex that drew people in. Yet, the sex is so sanitized that if the fornication depicted with this book was the real thing, we’d all quit having it out of pure boredom.
I really can’t recommend this book on any level. The few humorous parts are not worth the pain inflicted by having to read the rest of it. It was a book that I really had looked forward to which makes it all the more painful. I have no choice but to give it one star out of four.