Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Deep End - Joseph Hayes

"If any of you gentlemen become legislators, I hope you'll get a law passed requiring every female infant's birth date be tattooed on her belly just below the navel at birth."

England must be the country of choice for a wife to go to, so that she can leave her husband home to make a complete and utter drunken jackass of himself for the first crazy little twist that twitches her butt at him. For the second time in as many months I've been presented with this setup in a novel dealing with one man’s exposure to a world in which he has no place, leading to his ultimate fall. The first was John D. MacDonald’s potboiler, Clemmie. Now we have 1967’s The Deep End by Joseph Hayes. Below is a picture of my ratty paperback copy. 

Bantam Paperback edition May 1968

Joseph Hayes is probably known mostly for his novel The Desperate Hours, which was made into the 1955 movie of the same name, starring Humphey Bogart and Fredric March, then remade in the early 90’s with Mickey Rourke.

The Deep End is a similar setup, except that instead of an escaped convict invading the suburban castle of an innocent family, we have freaky hippies invading an upper-class Manhattan apartment belonging to a lawyer. Thanks to Manson and his gang, the idea of hippies encroaching on to middle-class turf must have been really terrifying for folks in the late 60’s, considering how often hippies were used as plot tools. Hippies were the scape-goats for many of society’s failings then. They represented everything that wasn't honest and decent and American in those days. Drugs and sex and pinko ideals, just like our communists enemies promised to us: “We will conquer you through your children.”

Adam Wyatt is our hero in this novel. He is a man of character, responsibility, righteousness, and goose-steps to the conservative line. His wife, Lydia, has flown off to London to care for an ailing mother. Their daughter, Anne, is grown and married to a middle-class stiff of her own named Glenn and is living in the country. Adam returns home to Manhattan after a weekend of visiting Anne and Glenn. He's bored, restless and vaguely horny. He comes home to what he naturally assumes to be his empty apartment, only to find a somewhat kooky chick named Jenny waiting for him there. Jenny tells Adam that he gave her the glad eye at the neighborhood pub, and that she’s only there because he wants her to be. She calls him Sam, twitches her hot little ass at him, immediately disrobes, and before you can say the Pledge of Allegiance, Adam is laying the pipe to her. Sure, he feels a little bit guilty for cheating on Lydia. But Lydia is partly to blame for leaving him alone, he reasons. Besides, guys like Adam are somewhat disposed to affairs, as part of their role as stalwart heroes of their nation.

After Jenny and Adam bop between the sheets, Adam goes out to the kitchen for a drink, only to discover a long-haired bearded cat in a fringed leather vest cooking dinner. The guy introduces himself as Wilby, and congratulates Adam on his little conquest of Jenny's reserves. Wilby quickly assumes the role of an anti-establishment blithering radical, throwing all of Adam’s beliefs and mores back in his face. And this is about where the novel has pushed its credibility a bit too far. Adam, is one of those annoying characters who carries the plot forward only by his sheer irrationality. There are numerous points that your average Joe would have got a neighbor, the cops, the building superintendent, anyone, to throw Jenny and Wilby out on their unwashed asses. Instead, Adam entertains their invasion of his castle by demanding they explain themselves, and that they promptly depart of their own volition. Wilby quickly emasculates Adam’s authority by knocking him on his can. From that point on, Adam is pretty much putty in Wilby’s hands. They tell Adam they’ll leave only after he lays some bread on them first. “Bread?” Adam demands. “What do you mean bread? Is that like money?”

Besides being a dick, and a cheater, and a pompous ass, Adam is unbelievably thick in the head about the world around him, much like the Pope would be at an orgy. Wilby rants about justice, the Vietnam War, religion, the law, you name it, as Adam can only recite the kind of platitudes you’d expect from someone as square as he is. Within two days, Adam is questioning everything he’s held as the truth, snapping at his law partners, accusing acquaintances of siccing Wilby and Jenny on him, all the while acting like fool and drinking himself into blind stupors. And on top of all that, he still can’t seem to resist Jenny’s nubile charms in the sack. It’s an interesting dissection of the mid-century White American Male at the mercy of a world he’s completely over his head in. And, it’s impossible to root for him.

In no time flat, Adam is an accomplice to a planned abortion for Jenny. He’s also extorted by Wilby for sleeping with a girl under the legal age. By day two of the novel, Adam is going through life in an alcoholic fog, striking out at friends, questioning his believes, drinking himself blind, and adopting Wilby’s tics and speech patterns as his own. He’s literally off "the deep end" as described in the novel’s title. And that’s only halfway into this “four days of utter hell” that’s promised in the blurb on the back cover.

An interesting novel, Dad. Hippie dialog can be excruciating if not handled right, but Hayes has a good ear for how people speak. It's a bit too long maybe, but never boring. It's not very believable at times, but has its moments and is a nifty little comeuppance for all those arrogant stiffs that have all the answers in life without even knowing the questions, click!

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