May 15, 2012

"Naked Came the Stranger"... a literary hoax from 1969.

Written by Mike McGrady, who died the other day at the age of 78.
Intended to be a work of no redeeming social value and even less literary value, “Naked Came the Stranger” by all appearances succeeded estimably on both counts.

Originally issued by Lyle Stuart, an independent publisher known for subversive titles, the novel was a no-holds-barred chronicle of a suburban woman’s sexual liaisons, with each chapter recounting a different escapade:

She has sex with a mobster and sex with a rabbi. She has sex with a hippie and sex with at least one accountant. There is a scene involving a tollbooth, another involving ice cubes and still another featuring a Shetland pony.
If you're just reading about this for the first time, I would expect you to think: What's the hoax? What's the difference between this and some comically careless porn novel?

The purported author was Penelope Ashe, who as the jacket copy told it was a “demure Long Island housewife.” In reality, Mr. McGrady had dreamed up the book as ironic commentary on the public’s appetite for Jacqueline Susann and her ilk.
A fake name and identity for the author don't make a novel into a hoax. (In this case, it was a group of authors, assembled by McGrady.) The "hoax" rubric has to do with the fact that McGrady was a respected journalist and — what? — that he felt contempt for the reader? But a genre writer's contempt for the reader is typical of second-rate genre writers. I think the main thing is that McGrady achieved such extreme badness that anybody who didn't think he was being that bad on purpose was tricked.
"[The idea] came after a night of reading ‘Valley of the Dolls,’ ” he later told Newsweek, “which I couldn’t put down because I was asleep.”

Surely, he reasoned,  reasoned, a newsroom full of journalism’s best and brightest could together produce something just as schlocky — and just as successful. He fired off a memo to his colleagues.

“As one of Newsday’s truly outstanding literary talents, you are hereby officially invited to become the co-author of a best-selling novel,” it read. “There will be an unremitting emphasis on sex. Also, true excellence in writing will be quickly blue-penciled into oblivion.”
These men with their contempt for women — the women who read trashy books and the grande dame of trashy books Jacqueline Susann. People really did read Susann to consume the delightful trashiness. "Naked Came the Stranger" became a best-seller because it was revealed to have been a concoction, planned out by this collection of Newsday newsmen. It was after the "hoax" was revealed that people wanted to read the badness that was always meant to be bad, and the fun of it was — I think — to enjoy the contempt you feel for those other people who read the trash Susann writes. Or was it the freedom — because it's literary and savvy — to do something you'd been denying yourself: to read some sexy trash?

Here, you can still buy "Naked Came the Stranger." There's also "Stranger than naked: Or, How to write dirty books for fun and profit," by Mike McGrady. But what the hell? Respect the woman: Read "Valley of the Dolls."

18 comments:

chickenlittle said...

"Respect the woman: Read 'Valley of the Dolls.'"

Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls sure was a hoot!

Johanna Lapp said...

Isn't that how "Dreams From My Father" came to pass?

Bob Ellison said...

I took a college art course in which I kept getting Bs on the weekly papers. The TF consistently spoke and wrote in florid, incomprehensible terms. So finally I wrote a paper in the McGrady style, deliberately lampooning the idiotic stuff the TF liked. My paper made no sense to its writer, but its reader gave it an A.

traditionalguy said...

Those were the good old days. The feminists wanted to be allowed to do unrestricted sexual exploits like the men were allowed to do. Or we men were when not busy fighting Viet Namese and raising children.


Now the men only want to use computers and be free to marry men.

ricpic said...

Although it's true that almost any writer can write a sex novel or a romance novel or a crime novel by formula, it's rare that such novels are best sellers. That's why Jacqueline Suzanne or Barbara Cartland or Mickey Spillane or Harold Robbins are such rarities. Though they write to formula they also write with a genuine passion for their genres. That can't be faked or at least not faked well enough to fool the fans of such fiction, who have fantastic antennae for the real thing vs. the fake.

Q said...

Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls sure was a hoot!



What's even funnier is that it was co-written by Roger Ebert. Yes, that Roger Ebert.

EMD said...

My grandmother had this book in her basement, along with many other less-smutty ones. I remember picking it up, but not reading much of it when I was about 12.

EMD said...

Although it's true that almost any writer can write a sex novel or a romance novel or a crime novel by formula, it's rare that such novels are best sellers. That's why Jacqueline Suzanne or Barbara Cartland or Mickey Spillane or Harold Robbins are such rarities. Though they write to formula they also write with a genuine passion for their genres. That can't be faked or at least not faked well enough to fool the fans of such fiction, who have fantastic antennae for the real thing vs. the fake.

I agree, but the works of Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson strike me as junk food literature.

EMD said...

I took a college art course in which I kept getting Bs on the weekly papers. The TF consistently spoke and wrote in florid, incomprehensible terms. So finally I wrote a paper in the McGrady style, deliberately lampooning the idiotic stuff the TF liked. My paper made no sense to its writer, but its reader gave it an A.

I once wrote a paper excoriating the film Top Gun for it's blatant sexism and underlying hostilities towards homosexuals.

It was ridiculous, but it was for "Reading Texts" where we had to study Noam Chomsky's dissection of 1940s Disney cartoons (oh the hegemony!). The teacher was a total communist useful idiot type.

A hilariously bad paper than earned me an A.

edutcher said...

That was the time when work like that was treated as art.

But it had to be done by a woman or it didn't count.

Not so much any more.

MadisonMan said...

What does the 'c' tag mean? It's only used for this article.

jvermeer51 said...

Except the accountant wasn't really an accountant; it was just a front for a porno writer. As an accountant, I feel shortchanged.

Bartender Cabbie said...

also was the basis for a film starring the incomparable Darby Lloyd Rains along with other Helen Madigan and other "names" from the adult film biz. Not that I would really know anything about that.

John said...

Will nobody mention math prof Alan Sokal? No? It's up to me?

From Wikipedia:

Sokal is best known to the general public for the Sokal Affair of 1996. Curious to see whether the then-non-peer-reviewed postmodern cultural studies journal Social Text (published by Duke University Press) would publish a submission which "flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions," Sokal submitted a grand-sounding but completely nonsensical paper entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity."[3][4]

The journal did in fact publish it, and soon thereafter Sokal then revealed that the article was a hoax in the journal Lingua Franca,[5] arguing that the left and social science would be better served by intellectual underpinnings based on reason. He replied to leftist and postmodernist criticism of the deception by saying that his motivation had been to "defend the Left from a trendy segment of itself."

John Henry

Eric Jablow said...

You might want to look at the story behind "Atlanta Nights", by "Travis Tea". It was written to twit a vanity publisher who claimed it only printed high-quality manuscripts. The publisher lied, of course.

One of the collaborators, Theresa Nielsen Hayden wrote afterwards, "The world is full of bad books written by amateurs. But why settle for the merely regrettable? Atlanta Nights is a bad book written by experts."

Lawyer Mom said...

Isn't this like the 57 Steps or the 48 Waves . . . that's now all the rage? I heard about the book when it was mentioned on CNBC.

Just when I thought Ann Rice (or somebody?) had the corner on the soft S&M market years ago, it seems what's old has become new . . .

Or I have become older. Or something.

ken in sc said...

I thought your were going to say that it was a fake because it wasn't a compilation of different authors. Everyone knew it was a compilation, but it was fun to read. Now the Harrad Experiment was an interesting read, and I was not sure if it was real or not.

Ann Althouse said...

"What's even funnier is that it was co-written by Roger Ebert. Yes, that Roger Ebert."

Basically the same idea as "Naked Came the Stranger." I say read Susann.