17 April 2010

Heart of Goldie

No Tears for Goldie
Jack C. Fleming [pseud. Thomas P. Kelley]
Toronto: Arrow, 1950

Cover copy paints No Tears for Goldie as "the story of poor, little Goldie Clarke who knew all about sex from first hand experience at an age when most girls were thinking about 'coming out' parties or their first prom." It's an odd piece of writing in that it reveals more about her past than is found in the novel. Odder still, Kelley spends much of No Tears for Goldie recounting the histories of the other girls at Goldie's place of employment, "Aunt Maggies [sic]", an early 20th-century San Francisco brothel. There's Tess, who had been "quick to pick up a knowledge of sex from the lowest sources"; Alma, who was seduced by a hobo at age thirteen; and Vera, who lost her looks and became a scrub woman.

The longest of these stories – twenty-one pages in a 123 page novel – belongs to Ginger, a young widow whom Aunt Maggie turns away. "You're a clean kid if ever I saw one," she says, "there's nothing of the whore in you." The working girls all chip in to help give Ginger a new start, but not Goldie. To quote Aunt Maggie a second time, her best girl has "a heart as hard as steel".

As if to prove the madam wrong, Goldie soon falls for Harvey Perry, a wealthy alderman who lives alone in a palatial mansion by the ocean. Within days they make plans to get marry and leave San Francisco. But then Perry dies. And Aunt Maggie dies. And Goldie finds she is pregnant. She gives birth to a boy, leaves him on the doorstep of a wealthy childless couple named Carson, and spends two years wandering the globe before ending up in a Denver brothel.

In the 8 July 1967 Star Weekly Magazine Kelley described his method, writing that when beginning a novel he had absolutely no idea what would happen, how the plot would unfold or how it would all end. I don't doubt there's truth in this – it explains much – but this ending would have been planned.

On the morning of 18 April 1906, Goldie returns to San Francisco with dreams of getting a job as the Carson's maid and so be close to the son she had given up. Before she can set her plan in motion Goldie happens upon Mrs Carson and the boy on the street:

The time was exactly 9.12 a.m. And then a terrific rumble sounded. THE SAN FRANCISCO EARTHQUAKE HAD BEGUN!!
In horror, she witnesses a disaster of biblical proportions:
The street before her was split wide open, in a long and angry gap. She saw humanity plunged into it, to disappear forever. The sky around her was suddenly aglow, with the glare of countless fires!
The din was indescribable!
Mrs Carson is crushed by a boulder. Goldie shelters her son, before both are buried under "a hundred tons of bricks and mortar". In time their bodies are found by a rescue party, who note that Goldie died with a smile on her face:
"...You'd think she almost welcomed death, with her baby in her arms", one remarks. I wonder who she was?"
The death car made its way up the street. The men returned to their work. And Goldie Clarke's tormented soul had found a certain peace!!

A "profound novel with a message and a purpose", the cover copy concludes. The message? The purpose? Damned if I know.

Trivia: The 1906 earthquake struck at 5:12 a.m., about one hour before Goldie's return to San Francisco... but, hey, No Tears for Goldie is fiction.

Object: A cheaply produced mass market paperback.

The copyright page informs the reader: "This book has been selected for reprint because of its popular appeal and its successful record of sale when originally printed." In fact, this is the first and only edition of the novel; Arrow Publishing placed this notice in all their books. I'm grateful to bowdler of Fly-by-night for confirming my hunch.

Access: No trace on Worldcat, nothing on AddAll, No Tears for Goldie holds the distinction of being the most elusive book yet featured in this blog. I was fortunate to find a copy two months ago for just five dollars.

Related post:

No comments:

Post a Comment