Monday, October 07, 2013

The most repugnant novel I've ever read

by Dann Lennard

SOMETIMES, my obsession for all things wrestling can lead me down dark alleyways that I really didn’t expect, nor want, to go. Such is the case with my eBay purchase some time ago of the 1964 wrestling-themed novel Men Want My Flesh by Martin Samuels. I finally read it on the weekend and I really regret doing it. I feel like my mind has been dragged through a shit-filled sewer.

I’ve read some bad books in my time: poorly written, offensive content, demented in its point of view, but never have I read a novel that contained all three elements to such an alarming degree.

Men Want My Flesh is quite simply the most repugnant, misanthropic book I’ve ever had the misfortune of reading: extreme misogyny intertwined with homophobia and a healthy contempt for men as well.

This 75-center was probably the height of titillation back in the repressed early 60s, and maybe it’s typical of the bastardised genre of the pervy potboiler, the sexploitation-style novel that was the precursor to the full-on X-rated novels that filled porno shops up until only a few years ago. If so, then I hope the people who bought and perused them didn’t grow up with a severely warped attitude towards women and mankind in general.

The star of this tawdry tale is 18-year-old Marcia, a gal from the wrong side of the tracks who’s forced to live with her rich, aloof Aunt Beth in her mansion after her mother dies.

Beth is indifferent to Marcia, directing all her affection to weak, depraved son Berty. The scoundrel, naturally, takes an unhealthy interest in sweet innocent Marcia, finally culminating in a brutal rape scene in a children’s playroom.

Only a few pages earlier, the poor gal had lost her virginity to a Frenchman who forced himself on her after a blind date.

In fact, unlucky Marcia doesn’t fare well throughout this book: her first five sexual encounters all come via rape. Of course, this being an “erotic” novel written by a woman-hating male, by the end of each assault, Marcia comes to enjoy the experiences (except Berty’s).

Worse still, whenever she tells her friends about being these horrific attacks, their reactions are of the “Aw shucks, honey. That’s just the way of the world between men and women” variety. It’s jaw-dropping stuff. Samuels’ hatred of women (they’re cock-teasers who deserve to be raped) is only matched by his disdain for men (they’re filthy animals incapable of containing their brutish urges). The author has serious fucking issues here.

Following the Berty incident, Marcia discovers that Aunt Beth has taken his side, so she leaves the mansion (along with the maid and new friend Corrine) and decides to become a professional wrestler at the urging of local promoter Jack Blair.

After briefly training with ugly, self-loathing lesbian Lois Felton – and getting raped by crooked cop Franky Tate – Marcia has her first wrestling match and is a smash-hit, remembering Lois’s advice to constantly spread her legs during every move to turn on the male scum in the audience.

In the dressing room afterwards, Marcia witnesses Lois beating up, then raping an ex-lover.

Meanwhile, Aunt Beth is horrified to learn that her wayward relative has entered the tawdry world of women’s wrestling, and orders her to quit. When Marcia refuses, Beth hires two thugs to drug, rape and photograph her in an attempt to blackmail her into quitting the biz and leaving town.

A dismayed Marcia rejects the blackmail attempt and devises a plan of revenge. She learns that Jack also organises “smokers”: exclusive, invitation-only events where women wrestle in a ring for real – sometimes in the nude, sometimes culminating in depraved acts – in front of a leering audience of sick perverts. He explains, “Maybe you misunderstood, Marcia. They’re dirty, they’re filthy. They get plain obscene.”

Marcia browbeats Blair into putting her on the card for the next smoker, then arranges for Berty to attend the event. Meanwhile, she seduces weak Franky Tate (the only non-rape scene in the novel) to convince him to raid the event and arranges a local journalist to cover the bust and make sure Berty is photographed being arrested.

She feels certain this will destroy Berty’s reputation in town and mortally wound her most hated enemy, Aunt Beth.

On the fateful night, Marcia arrives at the venue and meets fellow wrestler Judy, who’s forced to compete because her deadbeat ex-boyfriend has left her in a financial lurch with a loan shark.

Backstage, Corrine finds Marcia and reveals to her that Jack Blair loves her. Suddenly realising the error of her ways, Marcia rushes into the arena to warn Berty to get away before the raid. He doesn’t believe her and tells her to leave.

She runs backstage and bumps into Franky Tate, urging him not to go ahead with the raid. Before he can say anything, an enraged Judy (who’d previously been stripped and humiliated in her wrestling match) plunges a pair of scissors into his back, killing him instantly. Turns out no-good Franky was Judy’s ex. She then stabs herself and dies.

Pandemonium breaks out in the arena and the crowd desperately try to escape as the police bust up the smoker.

Berty finds Marcia and drags her into her dressing room. Full of hate, he rapes her again...

The book ends with the journalist visiting Marcia a few days later to tell her that the cops don’t want her (“Nobody wants you”) and she’s free to go. His newspaper article has led to the arrest of Jack Blair and a few of his associates, but all the wealthy audience members (including Berty) have got away.

Perversely, a chastened Aunt Beth visits Marcia and tells her she’s disowned Berty and begs her to return to the mansion. Marcia declines, saying that she and Corrine are moving to another city to get a job: “A waitress maybe. It’s respectable.”

She also admits that when Jack Blair gets out of jail, she’ll go to him: “I’m going to stay with him as long as he’ll have me.”

Yeah sure, honey. You ratted him out to the cops and he went to prison. He’ll DEFINITELY wanna see you again when he’s set free.

And the book ends on a vaguely hopeful note for Marcia’s future. A mentally damaged victim of rape who hates pretty much every man except the one man who more than likely hates her for ruining his life.

Men Want My Flesh is badly written in that florid, almost breathless style of the airport novel, and was probably churned out in three days by a moonlighting hack under a pseudonym (I checked online and couldn’t find anything else written by “Martin Samuels”).

The misanthropy (mainly misogyny, but overall a general contempt for mankind in general) are bad enough. But it’s Samuels’ twisted ideas of love and lust – and his central concept that any relationship between a man and a woman is essentially a combative one, where women are there to be tricked into bed or, failing that, forced into one – that will stay with me long after the overwrought dialogue and ridiculous plot developments have faded from memory.

This novel isn’t entertaining. It’s not even amusing in an eye-rolling, post-ironic way. It’s just fucked.