25 April 2014

Too Many Writers

Too Many Women
Gerry Martin
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1950

Maurice Bendrix, the main character in The End of the Affair, is a novelist. I'm more than prepared to allow Graham Greene this conceit; in his twenty-six novels Bendrix alone holds the occupation. I have less time for Ronald J. Cooke, who placed novelist protagonists at the centre of the first two of his three novels.

I've not read the third.

Novelists, newspapermen, poets, gag writers and the like are so common in Canadian fiction that you'd almost think everything was set in an alternate universe. My casual journey through neglected and forgotten tomes has led to wannabe novelist Clive Winston (The House on Craig Street), frustrated novelist Dave Manley (The Mayor of Côte St. Paul), washed up novelist William Marshall (Exit in Green), and successful novelists Mortimer Tombs (I Hate You to Death), George Sloan (A Body for a Blonde) and Gabrielle Lubin (The Best Man).

Ron Simpson, the main character in Too Many Women, belongs with Tombs, Sloan and Lubin. His debut, Two Loves Have I, is a best seller, "a book a lot of old maids are crazy about." Tall, handsome and talented – though, let's be frank, that title implies otherwise – he should be living the dream.

So, what's the problem?

Well, first there's wife Sue, who talks on the phone and has the radio tuned to soaps when genius requires silence to write. For goodness sake, she won't even answer the damn door! And let me tell you, those callers are persistent. A kid selling magazines rings and rings, while brother-in-law Arch will hold that goddamned button down for a ten-minute stretch. No exaggeration.

It's kind of a mistake to let Arch in the house. Ron's old college pal, he's part of the reason they were expelled. What's more, the guy's a boor, a braggart and a womanizer. How he ended up married to Sue's sister is a mystery.

Could alcohol have had something to do with it? I'm not so sure. There's more drinking in Too Many Women than in any other novel I've read, yet no one gets drunk. This is not to say that bad decisions aren't made. For example, Ron agrees to an early morning game of golf with Arch, which is something I'd never do.

The next day, Ron takes three swings and loses two "dollar and a quarter balls" to a gully and another to some bushes, then returns to the club house where Arch introduces him to Dell Whitney. She falls for the writer's pouting, petulant ways as he drones on and on about the love he may or may not have for his wife.

(cliquez pour agrandir)
Everything that follows is a bit of a blur; this has nothing to do with alcohol but Martin's inability to handle time and place. The story itself is really quite simple: a man drinks, drives, eats in restaurants, goes to nightclubs and attends parties, all the while going back and forth on whether to leave his wife for another woman. That he ends up returning to Sue at the end seems dictated by page count; had there been room for another chapter it would've been Dell.

The idea that "Ron flits happily from woman to woman, heavily sampling the nectar of each", as cover copy would have you believe, is absurd. Ron doesn't so much as kiss young Cynthia and rejects Maxine outright. Yes, he does. Even though she's got the body of a Grecian goddess… and a gun.

Not to worry, the scene between Ron and Maxine, depicted somewhat inaccurately in Syd Dyke's cover, begins and ends in less than half a page.

Anyone who bought Too Many Women based on the back cover would've been disappointed to learn that there is no "three day [sic] orgy" – in part because there is no character named "Charlie the Greek". The professional party girl is, I suppose, Maxine, though there's no "play and run" talk. The calibre and mark of the gun she pulls on Ron are never mentioned, but then Martin is not one for details.

Hey, the publisher was only trying to sell books. A novelist should understand.

Main Street, Hamilton, Ontario, 1 August 1947.
Trivia: Too Many Women is the first novel I've read that is set mainly in Hamilton, Ontario. Main Street is mentioned. Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts and Ron's beach house (location undisclosed) also figure.

Favourite passage:
Ron watched Arch clean the dust off his shoes with a towel.
     "I must admit she's attractive," he said.
     "Attractive hell!" said Arch. "She's good enough to eat."
     "Then how come you never made a play for her?" asked Ron.
     "I'm not her types," said Arch. "She's the queen. I'm only the cat that can look at her. She doesn't like cats. She likes writers…"
Every writer's fantasy.

Object and Access: Could this be the best produced News Stand Library title? There are few typos, no dropped lines and the text is a uniform dark grey.

Published in single printings for the Canadian and American markets, Too Many Women draws a complete blank on WorldCat. Three copies are currently listed online: a Very Good American at US$9.00 and two less than Very Good Canadians (the true first) at C$25.00.


  1. And what of the surprising climax?

    1. Ah, the surprising climax.

      While Ron is running around with Dell, pal Arch is cheating on his wife with good time gal Pearl. There's a party at some point, at which it is noted that Pearl is greeted by the hostess with a kiss on the lips.

      Ron and Arch soon learn that Pearl swings both ways. Dell, who is not at the party, knows nothing.

      The surprising climax occurs in the penultimate chapter. Ron has decided to divorce Sue and marry his mistress. He drives over to Dell's flat, discovers that Pearl is staying over for a few days, and concludes that Dell too is bi. Without a word, he breaks everything off.

      Dell doesn't understand until Pearl makes a pass at her.

      Dell knows she must explain her ignorance to Ron, but isn't able to because the novel ends.

      All News Stand Library books have 160 pages.

  2. That's amazing. They just end, pencils down, at 160? Like the last Sopranos? I think I'd like that a lot.
    I get the sense that a full half of Stephen King's (overlong) novels feature writers (with headaches) as protagonists. What's that, 150 books? 175?

  3. Hey Dusty! Check out six books that "guided" Francine Prose in this week's The Week! Glassco is right up there with Mavis Gallant and... uh... Hitler.

    1. Montrealers take two of six spots and aren't forced to rub shoulders with Herr Hitler. Poor Gitta Sereny.

      I share Ms Prose's opinion about Mavis Gallant. Glassco's Memoirs of Montparnasse? Well, I suppose it all comes down to how one defines "lightly fictionalized".

  4. pretty nice blog, following :)