“He’d made one mistake – a big one – and it involved a woman . . .”
So reads the teaser text on “Marked!”, a 1961 Dell First Edition by Bob Bristow. I read this on my recent business trip while the plane was taxiing and landing and I couldn’t use my Kindle (which is something that drives me crazy, since the Kindle is about as inert as a digital watch when its receiver is turned off). Published originally in 1961, I was expecting some misogyny, some political incorrectness and straightforward pulp goodness. However, I got a bit more than I was expecting with this one … and it led to a really interesting reading experience.
The back cover text reads in part: “He had been a lover for ten minutes and a rapist for thirty seconds. For the rest of his life he would carry the stigma. The oversexed, brazen girl turned out to be a frightened virgin and had branded him forever as a sex criminal …” So I knew this was going to be a bit on the questionable side, but this is pulp from the 60’s, you expect a bit of controversial content to a modern sensibility. But, as much as I go in with an open mind to these books, this one even made me cringe a little. Spoilers follow, but I think that’s ok since I don’t think you’re going to be finding this at your local library. Nevertheless, if you plan on searching it out, you may want to avoid this review.
So personal disclosure. I’ve never raped anyone, but I’ve worried about this before. You always hear the horror stories of false accusations of rape (e.g., the Duke lacrosse team case), but generally I think these are few and far between (even if you are a professional athlete.) But I was a Philosophy grad student with an interest in ethics, and completed a year of law school, including criminal law. From the Philosophy end, I’ve received the extreme feminist perspective that women cannot voluntarily agree to heterosexual sex due to the power difference between men and female and therefore all sex is rape. From the criminal law end, I understand that it doesn’t matter what the intent of the male was, if the partner was unwilling you’re guilty. These are the difficult cases and ones I don’t feel too bad debating in my own head (hint: I disagree with the feminist rape argument, and agree conceptually with the criminal law definition).
However, the case in the book is not a difficult one, and that’s where the trouble comes in. Cliff Russell is a good boy, trying to save enough money at this job to afford college. His colleagues know he is a virgin and rib him about it. When a sexy 19 year old neighbor moves next door to him, and begins to car pool with him and his buddies to work, all of his trouble starts. See, she seduces him. It begins with her undressing in the window next door (this happens, I had a neighbor that did this twice a day, but I don’t know whether it was intentional or not). Soon she begins talking to him across the alley while he’s trying to fall asleep. Eventually she convinces him that he must come over, ” Cliff boy, I’m sexed. I saw you dressing this morning and I’m sexed.” Awesome 60’s slang aside, he is finally convinced to carry a 7 foot board that she has left in the bushes up to his room and use it to crawl across the alley into her room. The next few pages include the rape, in which she at first urges him on moving his hands on her body while pulling him towards her while saying “no” the whole time. Still, maybe it’s a questionable situation. But when the author writes “His need became too great; he ignored her pain.” It kinda goes over that edge.
Nevertheless, the rest of the book is about the consequences including his time in prison, but moreso how he is a marked man once he gets out. He tries to go to college but has a hard time keeping a job once people find out he is a sex offender. Every time a sexual assault occurs near campus he is pulled in (remember this is pre-DNA testing). How he clears himself in these cases is really the thrust of the book. But I felt myself kinda feeling bad for him, and that was a bit disturbing.
Worse was the reactions of others. I don’t know if this was the attitude of the time or just the imagination of the author, but the reactions were just strange. For example, the cop that questions him after the initial rape: “You know what could have made a difference? If you’d been out in a car on a lonely road and had done the same thing, you probably wouldn’t be here today. She’s have had a good cry and then realized that it was as much her fault as yours. […] But the way it happened, she was in an apartment house and when she cried out, a dozen people opened her door. You didn’t have time to calm her down. She didn’t have time to stop being afraid.” Or the bad girl in town that constantly comes on to him once she finds out he’d been convicted of rape. It’s just a really odd reading experience.
In any case, the book was good enough that I finished reading it on the plane rides. I just felt a little dirty after doing so. One of my graduate study interests was how narrative can alter your reaction to events, and whether this means that narrative can be considered moral or immoral as a result. The involuntary action of sympathizing for an unsympathetic rapist is a good argument for the morality of narrative. Nevertheless, I’ll continue reading the pulps as long as the covers keep catching my attention.