Graphic Novel Round-up: All Creatures Great & Small
Underground Reading: When Michael Calls

Underground Reading: Limbo Tower

Limbo TowerLimbo Tower, by William Gresham, is a Signet paperback, published in 1951. Set in a private clinic for tuberculosis, Limbo Tower describes three long days in the lives of the hospital patients and staff.

The days (Wednesday through Friday) are meandering - long bouts of ham-fisted philosophy punctuated with the occasional burst of sputum-related death. The patients wrestle with their impending doom, the staff wrestle with one another (or, more accurately, wrestle with wanting to wrestle with one another) and the reader wrestles with the urge to set the book down and go take a nap instead.

Gresham's quest to write a great book prevents him from writing a good one. Although the setting abounds with juicy pulp material (an unseen political boss, a once-seen mistress, a love triangle,...) the characters merely stagger from page to page, woefully describing their perpetual conflict with god/life/love/manhood and death. Especially death.

The characters are all interesting material. An ex-con man, a preacher, a boxer, some buxom nurses and a playboy doctor are all trapped together in the ward, essentially waiting to die. Although Gresham provides the occasionally entertaining glimpse into their spicy histories, the bulk of the character development (that is, "stagnancy") comes across in their endless monologues (internal and external) about waiting for death.

Also, there is poetry.

When people actually do die (which is inevitable), there's no emotional intensity. Just relief. Yet another struggling soul is spared the agony of completing their painful journey to the end of the book.

Gresham doesn't provide a lot of high notes for balance, either. I suppose the "reward" (besides, of course, death) is when the two "heroes" finally hook up. The soft-hearted nurse is upset at the time. The labor activist patient (one-very-ill-third of the love triangle) just died in her arms after hemorraging diseased phlegm into her mouth. The heroic doctor couldn't save the activist because he was getting a quickie from his mistress in the hospital parking lot at the time. After zipping his pants up and dumping the mistress out into the street, the doctor strolls back into the Tuberculosis/Plague Ward and makes out with the nurse.

Although Gresham sets this up as the most gratifying snoggery since "Gone with the Wind", it doesn't quite click with me. Go figure.

Hey, here's a new one: A playboy doctor, a buxom nurse, a hillbilly preacher and a con artist all walk into into a hospital ward... and write poetry.  Somewhere in the world of Limbo Tower, a political boss is beating someone to death in a strip club (probably over a stash of stolen Communist morphine), but Gresham could care less. The joke's definitely on the reader.