Understudy for Love by Charles Willeford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the original 1961 edition of the novel reprinted in 2018 as Understudy for Death by Hard Case Crime, which they heavily marketed as his long lost novel. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the novel is that both publishers misrepresented the novel. In 1961 Newsstand library pushed the sleaze and sex angle. In 2018 Hard Case pushed the crime angle. The book is neither sleaze nor crime. The two books that immediately came to mind for comparison were Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West and Revolutionay Road by Richard Yates. What we have here is a cynical journalist with a bad case of existential dread amidst his comfy suburban life. Your basic literary novel, which is how it would have been marketed if it had been published by one of the mainstream publishing houses instead of a sleaze publisher. So the first task in approaching this novel is to set aside both the sleaze and crime expectations. The question is will Richard Hudson get his head and heart in sync enough to keep his marriage and his life from imploding? Has its flaws, but is well-written, and actually quite good in its proper context. Willeford wrote a fascinating mix of novels that is worth deeper literary study.
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