Keogh, Theodora. The Fascinator. New York: Farrar, Straus & Young, 1954.
—. My Name is Rose. 1956. New York: Signet, 1958.
—. The Tattooed Heart. 1953. New York: Signet, 1954.
Theodora Keogh is my latest literary obsession, so I’ve been buying her out-of-print books on amazon.com as I find them (several of her novels have been reprinted by Olympia Press, thus I have been focusing on acquiring the out-of-print ones first). I love the look of old pulp fiction, and these editions are still in good condition because Signet was smart enough to produce them with colored page edges (I’m sure there is a technical term for this, but I don’t know it, which is terrible) to help protect the pages. I remember my elementary school librarian, Charles Kolataze at P.S. 97 in the Bronx, teaching us that books with this feature would last for years and years, but books without it would maybe only last for ten. Now, it is ridiculous to say that any book, even one being handled often by grubby children’s hands, will only last for ten years–see Nicholson Baker’s excellent exposé of this and other ridiculous librarian myths, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper–but it is true that books with protected edges stay in good condition.
The first edition of The Fascinator (great title!) is also, well, fascinating, as it gives a glimpse into Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s (Why don’t they use the Oxford comma??? Arghhh.) early history. That third partner slot was apparently an unstable one, as The Fascinator has Young as the third partner and My Name is Rose notes that it was first published by Farrar, Straus & Cudahy.
I just finished reading Theodora Keogh’s 1950 novel Meg, which is about the eponymous protagonist’s struggles with her entrance into womanhood in the year before she turns thirteen. I am generally not a fan of books that are primarily about children (two major exceptions are Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and Miriam Toews’s The Flying Troutmans), but Meg is a thought-provoking, well-written book. It is a cross between Judy Blume and Lolita, with the salacious bits just titillating enough to keep the reader’s attention without causing them too much worry about Meg’s fate, and the more innocent parts genuine enough as to not verge into sappiness.
What impresses me most about the novel is how prescient it is about the enforced conformity of the decade that followed its publication. Nothing much scandalous happens (There are constant hints that something will–Will Meg be seduced by her best friend’s father? Will she be kidnapped by a child molester? and so on–but the only time the book lives up to its luridly suggestive cover is when Meg loses her virginity to a slightly older boy, an experience that is neither pleasurable nor traumatic for her. Her description of the experience is beautifully profound: “‘What did it feel like?’ She thought a moment as she buttoned on her blouse. ‘Well, it was as if there was no place and you were making one, only you never quite got to make it.'” ), but the book feels subversive simply because it portrays characters who are unsatisfied by the roles society assigns them and want something more. Unfortunately, as is par for the course in most 1950s pulp fiction, most of the characters are punished for their differences. The prostitute Miss Tracy is murdered by her pimp, and Meg blackmails her history teacher when she finds out that she is a lesbian in order to get a passing grade. Aside from this one act, though, the reader roots for Meg, and she happily gets through the book relatively unscathed, albeit wiser, and the reader knows that she won’t grow up to be the kind of adult drone which the novel writes against.
Keogh, Theodora. Meg. 1950. New York: Signet, 1951.
I bought this book after reading Keogh’s novel Gemini, which I enjoyed. I love old pulp fiction paperbacks, and thus am especially excited to add this edition to my library. The cover painting isn’t as lurid as pulp fiction illustrations often are, but the descriptions of the novel are clearly meant to titillate. The text at the top promises to reveal “The Secret Life of an Awakening Girl,” and we are told further down that the “book so honestly bares the secret thoughts and acts of boldly curious adolescents that you will never again take for granted the innocence of youth.” If the reader isn’t already hooked by these descriptions, the back cover blurb describes some salacious characters: “Miss Otis–the respectable history teacher with a guilty secret… Eddy Smollet–a man with an evil taste for little girls… Godwyn–in the basement he brooded about the prostitute upstairs.” Count me in!
Bought on amazon.com.