September 12, 2002

Tossed Salad

Print More

Did you hear the story of 17-year old Elizabeth who had it all? A car. An enormous house in the Malibu Hills, or maybe it was the Upper East Side. Her parents always wanted her to be happy, but thin, pale Elizabeth was shy. Sure she had a cell phone, but she despised it. And yes, she loves her little brother although she fantasizes about burning him with the Zippo lighter she bought in the Village — or was it Venice Beach? After losing her beloved Blink-182 concert hoodie, Elizabeth goes on an Ecstasy bender and realizes that there’s more to life than her sulk ways.

Not familiar? Well, perhaps you heard the one about Joshua, the misunderstood artist/skateboarder/anarchist whose parents died in a tragic car accident when Joshua was a mere tyke. Forced to live with his stern, conservative grandmother in her cat-filled duplex, teenaged Joshua learns to express his feelings through his acoustic guitar and his mixed-media collages. Beloved by other tortured souls, Joshua learns to find peace in hash and Johnny Walker Black — expensive and dangerous habits for a guy who can’t drive after 9 p.m.

How about Julia, or Claudia, or Cody, or Case? How about any of the vapid characters that populate the novels published by MTV Books under the Pocket Books name, a division of mogul Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Much like the pulp novels of the ’50s and ’60s, this series comes complete with ever-so catchy titles like Don’t Sleep with Your Drummer and The Fuck-up. Leaving little room for imagination, these books proceed to recount the same basic plot time and again, begging the question, when did sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll become so damned boring?

In Phoebe McPhee’s first installment of The Alphabetical Hookup List (a “trilogy”), we meet three wonderfully life-like young women: Jodi a cheerleader who has sorority aspirations and a clingy high school boyfriend, Buster; Celeste, a bookish intellectual and virgin with an ex-nun for a mother and a buddhist monk for a father; and Ali, a clubber dating a trip-hop DJ named Sensei. Thrilling stuff. Really good. Like a Catcher in the Rye for the young, female demographic. Thank you Phoebe McPhee, thank you.

Or, if The Alphabetical Hookup List doesn’t strike you, how about giving Louisa Luna’s Brave New Girl a shot?

Writes Luna: “We’re in the basement, because his mom’s been unloading the dishwasher for like, an hour and a half. Ted’s drinking Sprite really slow and smoking.”

Notice here the “like” in the narrator’s speech — just like a real teen would talk! Also note that our friend Ted is at once a Sprite-drinking picture of innocence as well as a cigarette-smoking burn out, what troubling duality! This is exactly what a good book should be.

Though antique pulp novels are selling for substantially more than they once did (most carried a 25-cent cover price) at places like San Francisco’s posh Kayo Books and Ithaca’s own Autumn Leaves Books, people aren’t hoarding them for their literary genius. With salacious covers and ridiculous titles (Women’s Doctor, Call Her Wanton), the pulp of the 1950s is fast becoming one of the niftiest novelties of the decade. From metropolitan boutiques to ebay, vintage pulp is the rage. With a little luck, Luna and McPhee may indeed attain fame. For their sakes, I hope they get good cover designs for the future crap they’re bound to write.

Archived article by Nate Brown