Big Red's Daughter
by John McPartland
Jim Work, a twenty-five year old just out of Korea, arrives on the California coast to attend college on the G.I. Bill, but lands himself in a minor traffic accident that leads to major trouble. Of the two people in the other vehicle, he becomes fast enemies with one and fast lovers with the other.
Robert "Buddy" Brown is a small-time punk, but definitely dangerous.
"The kind of guy who's a bad drunk, who borrows and cheats for money to live on, who beats up strangers at bars and parties because he's able to whip most men, who always has some woman...around, most of the time three or four. A guy who likes marijuana, a liar, a useless guy, slightly psycho."Wild Kearny (her real name) is Buddy's girl, much too good for him, but she doesn't care.
"She was one beautiful girl. Her body was graceful without effort. Her hair was a tiger gold, natural and lovely, her face was that of somebody's pretty young sister grown up to be a woman."After a brief bout of fisticuffs with Buddy, Wild invites Jim back to her pad and he is introduced to her group of friends, mostly well-to-do and classy young characters with a hint of bohemianism around them. Buddy isn't one to let things go, though, and it is one battle after another with the criminal, which Jim is all too game for. He figures that if he defeat this dangerous bastard, then he can make Wild his girl.
Jim sums up the whole scenario succinctly:
"This was strange--to know that I'd met the man that was the final one to me, the one you killed or dying to kill. Met him the same day that I'd met the girl I wanted for the rest of my life."Why does Wild continue to be so nice to him while her boyfriend is so violently cruel? She wants something from him, and it's not what he wants her to want. She wants Jim to pose as her boyfriend in a few short hours when her father, the mob-connected Broadway Red Kearney, arrives for a visit. Against his better judgment, Jim agrees, but Red sees through the charade pretty quickly...and things spiral into madness from there.
Drawn into this seedy underworld, Jim finds himself wrapped up in a lunatic weekend of drugs, mayhem and mistaken identity--and not everyone is going to make it out alive.
Every once in a while, you stumble across some forgotten book that you instantly fall in love with, but that the rest of the world seems to not even know exists. It's like a secret tome that only a select few know about, and you just feel you have to spread the word. This, for me, is one of those books.
True enough, it's "just" a vintage piece of 1950s pulp, a hard-boiled love story and crime caper from an era where such titles were readily available by the hundreds. But this one seems a big, solid step above the countless others that it surely sat next to on the shelf.
I'm not going to fool myself into believing that everyone will feel the same way as I do. I'm a bit of an odd duck, enamored with genre films (the primary subject of this blog) in equal measure as I am enamored with the Beat Generation, and it's many offshoots. The Beat Generation begat the beatniks begat beatsploitation and the Juvenile Delinquent exploitation subgenre. And while the characters in Big Red's Daughter are never explicitly referred to as beatniks (though the term hipster is thrown about on occasion), they are definitely J.D.'s, and there are elements of Beatnikery on display here, from the carefree lifestyle that these kids are living, to the old-timey slang they utilize, and the jazz music that works as the soundtrack to their daily existence.
"You like [Stan] Kenton?" Buddy asked, smiling.
"He's changed a lot," I answered. "Now he's saying something, or trying to say something, that I don't quite understand. Maybe he doesn't, either, but he's trying to say it anyway."There are also dozens of immensely quotable pieces of streetlight philosophy, most of them delivered to us through Jim Work's narration, subtle little truthlets that you might find in the work of Charles Bukowski:
"There was a sackful of pain and the sack was me."
"I knew what reality was."
"Skinny ol' boys got a lot of grit in their claws."What the book as a whole really reminded me of, though, may earn a few scoffs from the intelligentsia: the work of Norman Mailer.
Not just any of Mailer's works, though, just a few select ones. The violent, pulpy exercises in excess that he wrote when he wasn't hard at work on bulky, serious subjects. Primarily my two favorite Mailer novels, An American Dream and Tough Guys Don't Dance.
Fans of pulp and juvenile delinquency should definitely give this one a read.