RARA-AVIS: Ronald Rabbit Is a Dirty Old Man

From: Richard Moore ( moorich@aol.com)
Date: 13 Nov 2007

RONALD RABBIT IS A DIRTY OLD MAN (Bernard Geis 1971) has to be one of Lawrence Block's oddest novels. Laurence Clarke is having a run of bad luck. His wife has left him for his best friend and, together with every dollar in their joint bank account, the two of them are now in Mexico. He's also been fired from his job as editor of a children's magazine "Ronald Rabbit's Magazine for Boys and Girls." The fact that the magazine had folded six months before and only an administrative oversight kept him on salary did not lessen his distress.

The novel is told in a series of letters to his wife, his best friend, his ex-wife (expecting her alimony check), his ex-boss, and various others. It is screamingly funny in a way that begins with a few chuckles and then as Block's design becomes evident becomes laugh out loud funny.

To say much more would be to spoil the fun and would be difficult given the fact that much of the humor is wrapped in graphic sexual descriptions. Along the way, our hero is befriended by a group of 16-year-old girls who are students of a Catholic school for girls. Initially, this seems like a wish-fulfillment fantasy (as his ex- wife charged after he sent her and her boyfriend graphic descriptions) but by the end of the novel that is less certain.

The way the various plot threads come together (ahm)during the course of the novel is a thing of beauty.

The one novel to compare to RONALD RABBIT is Donald Westlake's ADIOS, SCHEHERAZADE (Simon and Schuster 1970)which is told in the form of ruminations and false starts of a porn writer suffering from writer's block. The way the financial and marital concerns manifest themselves in his attempts to write yet another porn novel is very, very funny. I suspect that Block may have written RONALD RABBIT in an attempt to top Westlake. Both of them were writing (or had written) porn novels to pay the bills in a process Westlake describes in some detail. If I had any doubt of this, Block's Clarke signs one of his letters "Adios Mo***r F**ker," which was the original form of "Adios, Scheherazade" in Westlake's novel.

As to which is the best, I would say Westlake's frame is by far the most clever but that laugh for laugh, Block's novel was the funniest.

One final note, the Block novel has a photo of Block posed with two young girls reading them a copy of his novel AFTER THE FIRST DEATH. The bio on the cover flap says that "...any resemblance between Lawrence Block, author, and Laurence Clarke, hero of RONALD RABBIT IS A DIRTY OLD MAN is entirely."

One post-final note, the publishing company in the book is Whitestone Publications, Inc. For a couple of years in the 1960s, Lawrence Block was employed by Whitman Publishing Company of Racine, Wisconsin which we recently discussed did comics, movie and television tie-in books for children.

Richard Moore

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