Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Two-fer Tuesdays: Heated Rivalry

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on any of these images to open up an enlargement.

Will Everett Cook was only 43 years old when he died, yet he left behind a fairly rich trove of novels and short stories, most of which fit within either the Western or adventure genre. According to a short biographical sketch prepared by the University of Oregon Libraries, in Eugene, where many of his papers are now housed, Cook “was born in Richmond, Indiana, in 1922 and died in [July] 1964. He began writing for publication in 1952 for Popular Library. During his short life Cook was a soldier, commercial aviator, deep-sea diver, logger, [and] peace officer … His hobbies included sports-car racing, sailing, judo, and barbershop singing. His pseudonyms include … James Keene, Frank Peace, and William Richards.” Together with Giles A. Lutz, an author who counted erotic novels among his credits, Cook penned additional Westerns under the joint pseudonym Wade Everett. Several of his yarns were adapted for television and film.

It’s not hard to see that the story told in Cook’s 1959 Monarch release, We Burn Like Fire, derives from his interest in what used to be called hot rods. The back-cover copy sets up the plot:
To Wendel Garland, sports-car racing was an intimate and personal thing—like making love to his sensation-starved secretary, Alice Lavery.

He lavished love and money on his Porsche Carrera and she repaid him with quick response and blazing speed—as Alice responded ecstatically to the caressing ministrations of his lips and hands.

Every time he got on the track, Wendel risked his neck to win. He knew the car could be the instrument of his death, yet there was poetry in danger—as there was poetry and danger in Alice’s dedicated depravity.
(As an aside, one commenter on this novel wrote: “‘Dedicated depravity’! I knew there had to be more to the allure of racing than just the cars!”)

In his cover painting for We Burn Like Fire, Harry Barton managed to integrate the abundant thrills of the speed track with the uplifting passions of driver Garland’s downtime. Combined with the front-cover come-on line (“He Was Obsessed with Speed—She Was Ruled by Desire”), this was a paperback guaranteed to draw the eyes of even normally jaded observers.

The same can be said, I think, for the other façade under consideration this week, from Bernice Kavinoky’s We Burn Like Candles (Popular Library, 1954). Unfortunately, its cover illustration is not credited, though one authority on such matters suggests it resembles the work of Lou Marchetti. The art certainly supports the promise, given in a blurb from the New York Herald Tribune, that this is “a story of love in all its sensual yearning and anguished frustration.”

(Right) The back cover from Kavinoky’s We Burn Like Candles.

We Burn Like Candles was originally published in hardcover by Bobbs-Merrill back in 1963 under the title All the Young Summer Days. It was the first novel by poet-playwright Kavinoky, who had apparently won a pair of Hopwood Awards from the University of Michigan, but about whom I have learned little else. Writing in the December 1952 edition of the Michigan Alumnus Quarterly Review, Donald Hill noted that All the Young Summer Days “is seriously intended and has been solemnly praised in some big newspapers. Nevertheless it is a trivial and mawkish work only masquerading as something worth your time.”

Ouch! Hill then goes on to describe the story line:
The characters with their psychological burdens are without exception the crudest soap-opera types. They are moved by their compulsions into strange and fitful errors; they wander out into the night (in their bathing suits) and on the beach, amazed, they meet their lovers and their dooms. We all know now that our psychological devils are more than a match for us. Michael Heller should never have married Marion Adler—that was his big mistake—but she threatened to kill herself and in fact made one good try, so what could he do? He could only remember his father (who had deserted his mother long ago and gone to live in Paris with the wrong sort of women entirely) and submit. But Bea, her beautiful, impulsive, well-developed sister was the one he loved (“She looked more grown-up in her black one-piece bathing suit than she had sprawled in the field”), and she loved him. As you might expect, things get worse and worse, until finally Bea is drowned in the lake by her adoptive brother, who had always loved Marion and hated Bea for reasons that—naturally—go back to his early childhood.
If this critique had not so far discouraged readers from investing in Kavinoky’s story, its conclusion may have done the trick:
As one would expect of a Hopwood winner, Miss Kavinoky uses some of the poetic resources of modern fiction, but she is the victim of perhaps the most treacherous taste I ever encountered in print.
After undergoing such editorial evisceration, it’s amazing that Kavinoky went on to pen anything at all. However, she managed to produce at least two more novels, 1957’s Honey from a Dark Hive and 1958’s The Mother (republished a year after that as So Strong a Flame—again, the fire references!—with cover art by Robert McGinnis), plus a 1966 memoir, Voyage and Return, which related the author’s “experience with cancer.” It’s unlikely she sent any of those to reviewer Donald Hill for his consideration.


Old Folkie said...

Sexy racing cover!

I must admit "We Burn Like Candles" sounds so bad, I almost want to read it.

John Baumgaertner said...

Showing a nipple doth a sexy cover make, and currently not even Victoria's Secret ads will do that. No nipples, no cigarettes dangling from hot lips, how is a pulp-fiction reader/buyer nowadays supposed to know what to read next?