RARA-AVIS: Block/Westlake poker game novel (long)

From: Robert A. Vietrogoski ( rav7@columbia.edu)
Date: 13 Jan 2000

Looong post ahead!

The poker game novel is one of the real stumpers in Block/Westlake pseudonym hunting. Chances are it was a sleaze novel, and the best reference source on Block/Westlake paperback original sleaze is Lynn Munroe's catalog #24. But even Munroe says "No one involved [in the poker game novel] will "remember" today the published title or pen name."

In Munroe's great article on Hal Dresner and other early sleaze writers
(in Books are Everything #30, 1995), Dresner tells the story like this:

"The weekly poker game produced one book written mostly in a ten hour stretch: one writer at the machine while six others played cards. The purpose was to provide some funds for the widow of a writer who had recently died. The final ms needed some reworking as speed was a higher priority than consistency. I recall that the lead character was, at various times, called by different names; his military history was, depending upon the writer, a stint in the Marines, Air Force, and Navy; and during one 24-hour period there were two sunsets and three sunrises. Still the final product was saleable and, legend has it, Scott Meredith even waived his commission. If true, that is the most remarkable aspect of all."

The Joe Gores version of the poker game novel story suggests another twist. Given that Gores says each writer only read the last page of the previous chapter, a possible working method would be Chapter 1: A does B, Chapter 2: B does C, etc. to Chapter 10: J does A, completing the loop. Westlake mentions this technique in Adios, Scheherezade, and according to Dresner, he and Westlake do this as they follow a wallet changing hands in Lust Trail (as by Don Holliday, Leisure Book 652, 1964). I'm still looking for a good candidate with this plot device among the giant trash mountain of '60s paperback sleaze.

(Probably the most famous truly literary work using this device is Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde, which was on Broadway last fall in David Hare's adaption The Blue Room, which starred Nicole Kidman's butt, which also appeared in the scary movie Dead Calm, based on a Charles Williams novel-- hey, right back on topic!)

Finally, I'd like to state that from uncomfortable personal experience, Lawrence Block really really really does not want to talk about or sign his early pseudonym stuff. So if anyone emails him and he writes back with an answer, please let me know!

Bob Vietrogoski, proud to be born in 1968 rav7@columbia.edu

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