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Monday, February 01, 2021

Acquired Tastes XLIII: Gay Pulp Fiction, Part 35 - Kym Allyson's The Queer Letters

Acquired Tastes XLIII: 
Gay Pulp Fiction, Part 35
Kym Allyson's The Queer Letters

I recently read this. Ironically? Coincidentally? The book had an original sticker price of $1.95 in 1970, when the book was first published. And guess how much it costs to download it on Amazon? Technology beats back inflation!

Now, I must warn you, if you do decide to download this one there is one thing I found rather off-putting: in order to offer a Kindle version of the book, the pages have to be scanned using a text recognition program of some kind. Sadly, no one bothered to give the scan a good readthrough, so, every so often your mind will stumble upon some nonsense, which takes you out of the moment and has your brain trying to decipher exactly what the author most likely wrote (example: swished instead of switched). 

Small price to pay. I mean, this? This is history.

Given that, there are a couple of other things your brain will have to adjust to. On occasion, the author does indeed choose words that will either have you a bit baffled or laughing out loud. 

For example, at one point Dale, the books protagonist, reacts negatively to a bit of news and the author claims he "belched". Well, it made me laugh. And then I thought, oh, was that supposed to be 'blanched'? But that didn't quite work either... so, maybe the author did mean belched?

Also, his use of then-current slang is something you will either find endearing (I did) and or stilted and annoying, though, I must say, it certainly does set the period. As for the author, I've written about him in previous posts as part of this series. 

Kym Allyson is a pseudonym for  none other than John H. Kimbro, a prolific author who wrote more than 80 books. As Allyson, he wrote seven novels in the genre published by Dominion, Barclay, and Greenleaf Classics.

Kimbro wrote under at least eight different names: Ann Ashton, Jean Kimbro, Milt Jaxon, Charlotte Bramwell and Zoltan Lambec, among others. 

But, his most enduring pen name was Katheryn Kimbrough, author of the gothic series published under the umbrella title, Saga of the Phenwick Women; a series of 40 gothic romance novels starting with Augusta the First and ending with Belinda the Impatient (was there, by chance, also Gertrude the Incontinent?) 

John H. Kimbro

Kimbro passed away on December 26th, 2005, in San Francisco at the age of 75.

The Queer Letters
is the story of a 26 year-old man named Dale, who lives in San Francisco and is coming to terms with his sexuality. Dale is blonde, tall, toned and handsome. At the start of the book, he lives alone in a rather sterile apartment and works as a shipping clerk for a warehouse with an office staff which strikes me as a bit on the large side of things, but, as this was before the time of laptops and laser printers, perhaps all those carbon-copied forms, typewriters, and myriad of filing cabinets justified such numbers. As office workers go, it's a pretty standard group - there's the pregnant bitch, the clueless hetero family man, the overweight mother hen/old maid, the scathingly gay preening queen, and the boy wonder; our very own Dale. They all get under Dale's skin for number of reasons. However, I must say, Dale strikes me as something of an annoying precious princess himself.

In addition to the office staff there are the warehouse workers and this helps set up one of the minor on-going conflicts that runs beneath the length of the novel in the form of some good old classism. Yes, it seems, in this button-down world, that to be a white collar office worker is preferable to pushing boxes around all day. On the whole, the warehouse boys are dismissed as roughneck, musclebound hooligans, save for one; the boyish, charming, buoyant Mike. Mike has to spring into the office once a day to drop off a shipping report and when he does he sets eyes and hearts aflutter. He flirts with everyone and everyone adores him... except, of course, our privileged, handsome white boy, Dale.

Dale is jealous of Mike's coarse ways, bulging arms, broad shoulders, tight Levi's, and prominent package. In fact, the outline of said package, as observed by Dale, is described in detail several times during the first part of the book. Dale also can't stand the fact that Mike seems to get along with everyone... everyone he, Dale loathes. Yes, Dale hates everyone he works with. In fact, his only joy at work are his frequent trips to the mens room, where he hides in a stall, waiting for the day to be over. Unfortunately for Dale, the mens room is in the Warehouse section of the building, which means he must walk (gasp) through the warehouse, during which he comes under the gaze of those unruly dock workers. There are snickers (not the candy bar kind), as his delicate sensibilities are exposed, time and again, to those of the ill-mannered populating the loading dock.

Outside of work, Dale has to contend with his perfectly beautiful doll of a girlfriend Barta. Barta is a knockout; a fall of flaming red hair, a tiny waist, model-perfect face and a fashionable wardrobe that Dale can't help but take note of. Barta also has the approval of Dale's Ozzy and Harriet parents, both of whom want to know why Dale hasn't tied the knot yet. In fact, they even approached Barta at one point to ascertain why it is she hasn't closed the deal yet. Why? Because (gasp, again!) Dale despises Barta! (Does this man like ANYBODY?) He finds her vain and empty-headed. Their once-a-week dates consist of Dale sitting in a restaurant listening as Barta prattles on about her friends, her clothes, her nails and her hair. Well, I hope the meatloaf is good.

One day, Dale steals away to his rest room refuge where he discovers a newspaper someone has left behind - a (gasp) (yes, you never know what's coming in this one) GAY newspaper. Dale assumes it was left behind by the old queen in the office, an attempt on the part of  that lecherous spider to lure those beefy, unsuspecting muscle-heads who work the dock into his web of unseemly activities. Seeing as how he has nothing else to do, Dale begins to read said newspaper. He comes upon a personal ad that catches his interest; someone looking for a pen pal. This, for some reason, intrigues Dale, who decides to answer the ad. Adopting the nom de plume 'Sandy Shore' (clever boy!), Dale writes the man and quickly receives an answer from one 'Ben Dover' (get it???). Ben is a rough neck, muscular he-man... and, at this point, if you have ever watched a rom-com or television sitcom, you know exactly where this book is headed. But, hey, I paid my $1.99, so I want my money's worth.

Their back and forth correspondence consists of Dale questioning his sexuality, bemoaning both  his virginity and his relationship with the vacuous Barta, while detailing the 'high drama' of having to deal with his co-workers and that terrible, boorish, handsome, churlish, sinewy, charming warehouse dog, Mike, whom Dale codes 'Mr. Awful'. (Yes, it appears our Dale has all the imagination of a 12 year-old girl writing mash notes in her glitter-bedecked slam book.) (My apology to all 12 year-old girls.)

Well, needless to say, our dear Dale does go through quite the crisis. That pregnant bitch at the office? She has the nerve to take time off to have that damn baby and guess whose lap the bulk of her work ends up in? Why, this is seriously going to cut into Dale's rest room breaktimes! And it gets worse... Mr. Awful... I mean, Mike, now has to drop-off  the mysterious 'warehouse report' to none other than... (gasp) (oh, get over it) Dale! Well, Dale nearly goes mad with all the pressure and all of his colleagues can't help but take notice (because, apparently, they have nothing else to do?) He snaps at each of them and the resident queen, wisest of the wise, instantaneously gleans precisely what lies at the root of his behavior, strategically moving in to act as buffer between the sensitive Dale and the other pedestrian office workers.

It is suggested, by the old queen, that Dale might want to speak with... gasp (again)... a psycho-analyst. Doctor Bascum takes our fledgling homo under his wing, getting him to cop to his homosexuality by the second session! Now that's some economical analysis. Dale shares all with the good Doc, who keeps his cards close to his vest, lest he ruffle the feathers of his fragile patient. But this is no Prince of Tides, and the good doc is no Lowenstein. 

Did I mention the doc represents yet another road not taken by our dear author? And the old queen? Rife with the potential to be a minor subplot... serving as example of the kind of gay NOT to be? Or, perhaps, having an affair with several of the boys on the dock? And the Doc? An opportunity for a little uncomfortable breech of ethics in the form of an attachment... but no... our author seems to be content to keep this a one plot-line pony. Such opportunities involving a number of the minor characters in the book constantly present themselves, but the author, instead, chooses time and again to utilize them as nothing more than props to spur on the main story. Economical, yes, though it makes for a short, one-dimensional read.

Back to our pen pals... Dale's correspondence with Ben Dover initially involves Dale whining about his sexual inexperience and Ben supplying him with pud-pounding material in the form of stories of Ben's many, many sexual adventures; trysts which, as Ben constantly reminds us, are physically rewarding, but, emotionally barren and unfulfilling. The two eventually decide to meet face-to-face in a park. They will each wear a red, plastic poppy in their lapel in order to identify the other. Doc B does all he can to prep Dale for the big day and when it arrives, Dale is primed and ready to go. Sadly, Ben is, of course, a no show (its way too early in the novel), filling Dale with great angst and self-doubt.

And, of course, there is a reasonable explanation. Turns out that Dale is so exceptional that Ben simply didn't think it right to introduce himself, given that Ben is in the process of falling in love with someone else - someone, whom Ben is fairly certain is the real thing. Dale understands (?) and the two continue on as pen pals.

At the same time, Mr. Awful, I mean, Mike has the audacity to buy Dale a cup of coffee! Walks right up to Dale's desk and gives it to him! Well, I NEVER! And... Ring-a-ding-ding. Turns out a little hot, acidic, caffeinated brown water is the key to waking up our little homo - in more ways than one.

The two start spending time together... on the weekends; day trips to various beaches, initially under the guise of picking up girls (yeah, right), but also as a means of getting to know one another. Mike, it seems, is in desperate need of a real 'friend'.  After the first weekend daytrip, Dale buys (gasp) Mike/Mr. Awful a cup of coffee, an action which instantly perks up the romantic radar of everyone in the office. Yes, something's afoot and both preening queen and den mother want the 411.  But Dale plays it cool. I mean, he's not even 'sure' that Mike/Mr. Awful is... you know... gay. 

Dale breaks it off with Barta and this of course sends the parents into a WTF spin. Mr. Manipulative... I mean... Mike then shows up, unannounced, at Dale's church, sidling up next to our blooming homo, and sharing his hymn book while  Dale is sitting right next to his (gasp) (sigh) parents. Yes... Dale is the kind of gay that goes to church with his parents every Sunday! Dale's folks, of course, invite Mike the Stalker/Manipulator, back to the family homestead for some homemade fried chicken and Mike wastes no time winning over the 'rents, who now totally approve of this new friendship (even though, and the parents make this abundantly clear, Mike isn't 'one of us, dear').  Isn't that cozy? Is this a budding romance or a hostage situation?

And that's hardly the end of Mike's frequently eye brow-raising behavior. Suffice to say: it's the kind of behavior that would have me heading for the door and considering a restraining order. 

Okay... so I am not going to give away the rest of the story (red poppy). But I think most fourth graders (do you read O. Henry stories in fourth grade?) could figure out where Mr. Manipulative, Ben Dover, Sandy Shores and our little homo in the making are all going to end up.

There is one scene, however, that is as priceless as it is stupefying. The Friday of the weekend when Mike and Dale are finally going to 'go-all-the-way'? The office queen arranges for the office den mother to meet up with Dale and all the other office workers at a... gasp  (yeah, I gotta stop doing that) GAY BAR, to celebrate Dale losing his homo cherry. And everybody's so happy for Dale. Because, apparently, this is something that happens all the time in Frisco? I dunno, but it all kind of struck me as fairytale wish fulfillment on the part of the author.  Also, I think HR might have a thing or two to say about the office staff being so over-involved in a co-worker's life... but then this is 1970 and HR didn't really exist back then. 

So.. Mr. Kimbro?

Not a terrible writer. Not a bad storyteller. Very dialogue-dependent. He's certainly economical. His sense of homo life? Let's just say there is a reason he was a very successful romance novelist (albeit, under a woman's name). Yeah, his idea of how life works? Not reality-based at all. But... hey, this is a jerk-off book, right, pull your pud and go with the flow (so to speak), right?

Only, it's not.

The sex described, other than the final scene, only comes in the form of Ben Dover's letters to Sandy Shore, as Ben recounts his many, many hook-ups with random types. And while I got swept up in the romantic sexual foreplay that takes place between Mike and Dale... the Ben Dover stuff felt a bit forced and clinical. Later, Ben Dover confesses that Sandy should take his stories as just that and nothing else... as in, Ben isn't really that much of a slut? Or Ben is a really terrible liar? 

In Mike, Kimbro creates someone who does not, to my knowledge, actually exist. He's in it for love only, baby. He doesn't want any of that hot, sweaty, hole-poking, finger-exploring, tongue-licking with a trick stuff.  Uh-huh. He wants (what Mr. Kimbro is trying to sell us as) the real thing. 

And speaking of tongue-licking. Mr. Kimbro may have actually never made love to anybody... because he tends to spend an inordinate amount of time licking things that are not ass, balls, taint, armpits or dick. In fact, I would go so far as to say that he has a bit of a bell-button fetish - something I personally have no experience with. I mean... Dale spends an excessive amount of time licking Mike's naval. And Mike spends an equally undue time reminding Dale that he likes his ears tongued. Now, I get the ear thing. But the naval? Isn't there where lint is collected? I dunno. And as for anal sex? Apparently not Mr. Kimbo's idea of a good time, for each time it is mentioned it is coached in unpleasant terms.

Also... the way he describes a kiss? To my knowledge (extensive)? Yeah, they work that way at all.

I give Kimbro credit for being able to bring to life a character the moment they are introduced. His descriptions are precise and succinct; he describes and I instantly visualize a human form to occupy that role. That's a gift. So, bravo. 

As stories go? Like I said... the plot's written in crayon - poppy red, to be exact. That said,  I am curious to read something else by Kimbro, for he does have decent writing chops. Would I recommend that you spend two bucks and download this book? Yep. It's a slice of history. It gives you a perfect idea regarding the quality of the writing found in books offered up to young homos at that time; novels that were more romantic in nature than the explicit sexual tone of such books published after censorship laws were relaxed. Although, come to think of it, those laws were actually relaxed in 1967, so perhaps the relative chasteness of The Queer Letters has more to do with Kimbro's personal mores and tastes than anything else. Still, it is a sweet and easy read, concisely giving one a sense of the longings of the gay community and the times they were living in. Have an afternoon to fill? Buy it (though I wonder who profits?).

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That's it for this week...

Thanks for reading. 

The Letter - The Four Boxtops

Love Letters - Allison Moyet


Xersex said...

This post makes me think how multilayered and multifaceted we are, especially about sexuality. Men who have never thought of having any homosexual dimension, as soon as the opportunity arises, they discover instead that they have a deep side but alive and ready to manifest itself. I have known many men like that.

whkattk said...

As I make my way through my 3-book series, it's become very apparent that writing porn is more difficult if the sex is going to happen in a realistic manner.
The author is most likely not the one who had posted that scanned work as an ebook. Happening a lot these days...

SickoRicko said...

Fabulous images, as usual!

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Well, it happens sometimes when books are kinda pirated. But it's worth reading when the erotica pops at the right moment.
Loved the photos you used, btw. So hot.
And I really liked The Four Boxtops! Groovy.