… but he doesn’t need to. The he in this instance is Lawrence Block, and about three minutes ago, I finished reading Getting Off, which he wrote as Jill Emerson, a pseudonym he had previously used to write literary erotica. (All this, by the way, is explained in some detail in his e-memoir, Afterthoughts, which you should also read.) I bought the book this afternoon in Real City, as I was also picking up a couple of picture books on fire safety for Mrs. M’s first graders — did you know October is Fire Safety Month? I did, but I had forgotten. The combination of Mercer Mayer and this novel probably has landed me on some sort of watch list, but having read the book, it was worth it.
The novel is subtitled A Novel of Sex and Violence, and he’s not kidding. Really. He’s not. It is explicit, in a way that won’t shock folks who have read his novel Small Town, but is quite likely to shock folks who haven’t read his better known series characters. Block got his start in the 1950s, writing pulp novels intended to be read with one hand — the sort that Harlan Ellison (who wrote his share as well) called “stiffeners”. A lot of genre writers developed their… um… chops doing this sort of work and making a living at it, but I suppose the free stuff online has done much of that in. (Someone needs to alert the President — ATMs aren’t the only instance of automation replacing jobs.) In any event, Mr. Block has drawn on that professional expertise for this erotic thriller. He’s drawn on it a lot. No, I mean a lot. Am I making myself clear here?
The premise is straightforward: A young, attractive woman has a habit of robbing and murdering her sexual partners. It occurs to her one day that through various quirks of fate, some of her partners have managed to survive their encounters. But she’s a completist, you see, and well, if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right, isn’t it?
In a way, the novel is a picaresque, with our heroine having a series of darkly funny encounters and gradually coming (sorry, couldn’t help it) to a series of realizations about herself. Of course, it’s also a crime novel, and an erotic novel. But what it mainly is, is wildly, perversely funny. I can safely say that I have laughed harder (OK, now I just need to stop it) at this book than I ever have at a serial killer novel before, and I suspect that would be true even if I had read many more serial killer novels than I actually have.
There are a couple of scenes in the book that I successfully anticipated, and the book’s episodic structure is reminiscent of his Keller novels from time to time, but Block’s narrative energy and skill more than offset any familiarity. Lawrence Block is a professional’s professional, and while authors — like boxers — can enter the ring too many times, his work can still leave you flat on your back and wondering what that ringing noise is.
So, is Getting Off for everyone? Nope. But from the pulpy cover to the aforementioned subtitle, nobody is pretending otherwise. I can say, however, that if you like your sex and violence with a dose of nitrous oxide, this may very well be the best book you read this year. Congratulations and thanks to Mr. Block, and to publisher Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime for bringing it out.