Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sibling Ribaldry

I’m almost ashamed of myself for associating with the inarguably squalid tale of 27-year-old Josh Duggar, the right-wing “family values” lobbyist, friend of 2016 Republican presidential candidates, and part of the TLC-TV reality show 19 Kids and Counting. As we are all aware by now, Duggar has been accused of molesting five girls when he was a teenager--four of whom were his own sisters. Although his parents dismiss these molestations as “very bad mistakes” (really, you think?), the revelations compelled Duggar to resign his position with the conservative Family Research Council. And TLC is said to be re-evaluating its commitment to 19 Kids.

I wouldn’t touch this controversy with a 10-foot pole, were it not for the fact that Duggar’s incestuous behavior reminded me of a long-ago-released paperback, an image of which I found tucked deep into my computer files. The cover above comes from the 1961 novel Brother and Sister, credited to “Edwin West.” Its author was actually Donald E. Westlake, and Brother and Sister was one of several sleazy paperbacks he wrote for Monarch Books in the 1960s.

The Violent World of Parker, a blog dedicated to Westlake’s writing, observes that Brother and Sister “is incredibly rare, probably because most people were too embarrassed to buy it and those who did were too embarrassed to keep it or sell it.” Its plot, if I understand it correctly (since I don’t own a copy either), centers around a “gorgeous and self centered teenager” by the name of Angie, whose parents were recently killed in a car crash, and who’s uncomfortable with her boyfriend’s determination to take their relationship in a more sexual direction. Meanwhile, her brother, Paul, has returned to the States from his previous stationing with the Air Force in Germany. He’s hoping to reconnect with his idealized childhood and get past the fact that his Austrian wife had cheated on him. Two confused and lonely siblings … a big empty home … can you see where this is heading?

A poster on the Goodreads site gives us this preview:
So after a very strange bit of role play in the car after a night out (in which they smooch) and a night when he comes home drunk after celebrating his honorable discharge (a bit of groping), they greet the morning by going at it like minks and spend the next few weeks in banging abandon, most likely in every room and on every floor in the house.

Of course the guilt and recrimination start clobbering them over the head and it all ends in tears, death and madness.
Brother and Sister isn’t exactly Great Literature. It may not even be great soft porn. Noting again that Paul is a member of the Air Force, Pulp International quips about that being “appropriate, because Westlake must have written this on autopilot.”

Sleazy as it is, this “tender, compassionate novel of incestuous love” boasts a handsome cover illustration by Harry Schaare (not his first foray into decorating a questionable work of fiction). Only one problem: it makes Paul appear more mature and less of a 21-year-old jackass than Westlake portrays him in the book.

“Jackass.” That fits Duggar, too.

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