The Week that Was
New Releases: The Hammer by KJ Parker

Underground Reading: Bachelors Anonymous by Vivian Connell

Bachelors AnonymousBachelors Anonymous (1957) is a novel of two halves. Or, more accurately, it is two completely different novels wrapped in the same cover. The first half is the silly story of "Hearts Ahoy" - a group that's less "therapy for sex addicts" and more an underground guerilla movement battling the feminist overlords. The second half, called "The Three Mr. Browns" is a thoroughly-serious tale of international espionage. The two are connected by a minor character and the glue of the book's spine.

For the first part, the book is the first-person narrative of Ward Woodham. Ward is a stereotypical, all-American Harvard boy. He's blessed with a silver spoon, a lantern jaw and the hormones of a 13 year old. His future in the import/export business looks bright - except a little hanky-panky with a client's wife soon backfires. Woodham's boss recommends the discreet "Hearts Ahoy" service as a cure.

It seems that Ward isn't the first man to let a woman make a fool of him. "Hearts Ahoy" is for the situation where a man accidentally picks up a woman and is about to accidentally be in a situation where they accidentally have sex. A member can pick up the phone, dial a number and - within minutes - a fellow "Hearts Ahoy" member will arrive and bail him out him with a phony emergency.

Hearts Ahoy, one patron boasts, is a necessity for every man, "unless you want to lose the war of the American Man against the American Woman. Every time you meet a dame, remember Pearl Harbour.... Because instead of looking for Japs in the sky he was looking at American pin-ups on the wall." Hearts Ahoy's same macho proponent warns that Park Avenue is like a "jungle" and "She comes down in a mink coat and what do you see? A hundred animals on her back. But what you don't see is the animal inside of her." (24)

Consider yourself warned, fellas.  I'm not sure when the Imperial Japanese made contact with American Woman, but the two of them proved a deadly alliance.

Mr. Connell pitches his Hearts Ahoy spiel way over the top and even Ward has a hard time believing that there's an international Feminine Conspiracy à la Sax Rohmer. However, as the ambitious Ward travels through the US and Europe doing his ambiguous import/export stuff, he finds that Hearts Ahoy is a fairly successful conspiracy of its own. Ward is constantly caught with his pants down, but as soon as his trousers hit the floor, he remembers to call his friend "Dodge Dowling" and the local Hearts Ahoy rep will bail him out. The scenarios get more and more farcial - including a Ward being bailed out by one woman's husband and, later, a sticky situation involving a Moroccan Sultan and his sleazy French dancer. 

Although Ward will turn his head for any young lady that walks by, his heart really belongs to his office's Scottish secretary, Fiona MacDonald. She smells of "heather" and has a faint burr in her voice - Ward can't resist her. Fiona, however, can resist him. Fortunately, she's damn good at her job. Unable to bed her, Ward promotes her until she's running the entire European half of their operation - better than her many male predecessors. Once Fiona and Ward are established as equals, their love begins to bloom. The lesson? She's exempt from the Feminine Conspiracy to undercut the Male because she's able to play in the Man's game. Were she a frail viper like the rest of the so-called "fair" sex, Fiona would've been poison as well.

Just as Fiona and Ward are finally getting cuddly, the book abruptly changes. The second half is still first person, but now told from the point of view of Mike Carroll. Mike appears initially in the south coast of France as a drunken poet with vague CIA connections. Now, he's elsewhere on the Riviera and a full-fledged secret agent. Hearts Ahoy is never mentioned - Mike's story is the chase for some missing diamonds and a Russian/German triple-agent that's leaving a trail of dead bodies across Europe.

It is hard to describe exactly how jarring this transition is. In the turn of a page, the reader is - with no warning - catapulted from a sex farce to a terrible Bond-clone. Especially given the transition from one first-person narrative to the other, it made absolutely no sense at all. Furthermore, and this is particularly odd thing to say, the Hearts Ahoy storyline was better. Ward Woodham's amorous adventures were sexist, goofy and a bit stupid, but they weren't altogether unfunny - and Mr. Connell was clearly having fun exploring the various permutations of the Hearts Ahoy system. The Mike Carroll story is a lackluster thriller with very little new to add. And if the first story abounds with conniving vixens, they've at least got more spine (and sex appeal) than the flaccid eclair of a Hungarian countess who serves as the second story's love interest.

Still, these are merely relative merits - comparing the two halves of the book. On an absolute scale, both halves of the book are pretty awful. A mediocre sex farce may be better than a dull thriller, but still isn't worth reading.