The motel is run by Trace (Teresa) (who deserves better) and her husband Walt (who deserves worse). This couple is joined by Della, Walt's alcoholic sister (who is getting exactly what she deserves, and knows it), Sperry (Esperanza) (who is getting exactly what she deserves, but doesn't know it), and Mark (who doesn't quite know what he deserves, what he wants, or whether or not he's ever going to get it).
Despite the horde of parentheses, the whole thing is actually quite simple. The adulterous, alcohol-swilling, wife-smacking baddies meet untimely ends, and the hard-working, hard-persevering types wind up with one another.
The book is further simplified by shading the characters with the palest gray in the pencil box.
Mark, who is a Good Guy, confesses to sippin' some liquor every now and then. Fortunately, the author makes it quickly apparent (by expressing it through the characterless 'Old Ma' of the boarding house), that a bit of sippin' whiskey is A-OK, and ain't it nice that Mark talks to the old folks? Garsh. Similarly, the pure-as-the-driven-snow Trace confesses that she really does love Mark, but, gosh darn it, she ain't touchin' him with a ten-foot pole as long as her husband is around.
If anything, these timid attempts to be daring literature detract from the one truly ambiguous figure in the entire book, Della. Although introduced as alcoholic, nymphomaniac and (eeek!) ugly, her disconcerting habit of blunt honesty rapidly endears her to the reader. In a book where everything else is precisely cut, she's an enticingly sloppy figure.
Alas, Della is one good portrayal in a sea of painful caricature. Flipping to the back of Paradise Motel shows a catalogue of other books published by Gold Medal during the early 1950's - including originals by John D. MacDonald and David Goodis (as well as, in all fairness, some total crap). These are daring books and interesting reads. Paradise Motel, unfortunately, is not.