|Bantam Books, January 1976|
First off I have to put a big thanks out to Joe Kenney and his terrific blog Glorious Trash for turning me on to Burt Hirschfeld's novels. I remember hearing of Fire Island back in the day, which is probably Hirschfeld's most well-known bestseller. But I really had no idea that Hirschfeld had so many novels out there to go and enjoy, including a number of "trashy" delights written under his pseudonym Hugh Barron.
Aspen, published in 1976, follows something of a template that Hirschfeld mastered, that is picking a resort destination somewhere on the map, and throwing in a bunch of twisted, messed up characters into the scene to see what happens. In this case you have a hard-nosed middle-aged developer named Carl Osborne, a beautiful 22-year old poet named Kit Pepe, Osborne's wayward son Jon Osborne, local hero and environmentalist Tom Keating and resident kingpin bad-guy Alex Budde, in addition to an assorted cast of kooks, dope-fiends and villains all running around Aspen trying to screw each other over while stopping to get high and have sex.
I don't think Hirschfeld really intended any of the characters in this somewhat cynical novel to be particularly likable. Sure, Kit Pepe and Tom Keating are the nominal heroes in the story. Unfortunately, Kit Pepe is one of those chicks who always have a trail of guys lined up to kiss her ass, because she's so beautiful and all. I pretty much find 22-year-old poets, especially flawlessly beautiful ones, intensely annoying and Kit is no exception. We've all been subjected to people just like Kit in real life, and I'm willing to bet I'm not alone in my attitude about them. The most difficult choice she's ever faced is which academic setting she should pick to be artist-in-residence at, and which asshole to bang. And you guessed it, she picks old stuffed-suit Carl Osborne to fall in the sack with. In no time flat, big-shot Carl Osborne is ready to leave his wife for the amazing Miss Kit! It's no wonder that his son, Jon Osborne, goes off the deep end about it. Jon has been harboring a crush on the lovely Kit long before his dad showed up in Aspen to cock-block him. Now Jon has to satisfy himself with assorted bimbos from the tennis club where he works as a tennis pro. His sideline, when not lobbing tennis balls at the spoiled and rotten, is running drugs for local crime kingpin Alex Budde.
Alex Budde is something of an entrepreneur in Aspen. He owns a number of legitimate bars, restaurants and businesses while keeping the wild side of the town supplied with plenty of dope and heroin. He's got a bodyguard with him at all times, in addition to a cop on his payroll. He also manages to get Carl Osborne conned into doing business through him with the local politicians and landholders. Carl Osborne has come to Aspen on behalf of The Heggland Group to buy up land for a planned development named Wolf Run Valley. Wolf Run Valley is going to be one of those sprawling nightmares that will attract an onslaught of filthy, squalling, littering, nasty tourists into the town. The kind that come in during the high season and leave the place looking and smelling like a used cat-box when they go. Naturally most of the old time residents aren't too jazzed about having outsiders like Osborne coming into their town pushing their weight around trying to get them to sell their land. They don't want to see their little slice of paradise become another Las Vegas. Osborne isn't bothered by anything so plebeian as what the townfolk want, and doesn't let an opportunity pass to lecture guys like Tom Keating on all the progress developers like him provide the local natives. Luckily, Keating isn't having any of it, which leads our neighborhood crime lord Alex Budde into putting a hit out on him.
This is a fast-moving novel with practically no page filler, except the stuff about Kit weighing all the big decisions she's facing in life. I put it down in a single weekend. Hirschfeld has a real knack for climbing into characters' heads and keeping the action moving. I understand it was a basis for a mini-series starring Sam Elliott. I've never seen it, but there is a good write-up about it on Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot if you're interested.
It's kind of too bad that Burt Hirschfeld's books aren't readily available for contemporary readers through reissues, or e-formats. Luckily, his books aren't hard to find on the used market. Find one and give it a go.