Monday, July 07, 2014

The Brutalist: A Gil Brewer Retrospective by Chris Morgan The LA Review of Books

The Brutalist: A Gil Brewer Retrospective by Chris Morgan

August 4th, 2013

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The Brutalist: A Gil Brewer Retrospective

GIL BREWER'S CAREER spanned from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s. In that time, he wrote 50 novels, 33 of which were under his own name, as well as numerous short stories. The last novel published in his lifetime (under his own name) was in 1970, followed by a few additional years of ghostwriting and other hack work. He died in 1983 at the age of 60 from complications of long-term alcoholism. All signs indicate that he did not die feeling very accomplished; in fact, he wrote as much in 1977: “I’m 54 and I haven’t even started. Drank too much and was always in a rush to make enough $ just to get by. Now I’d like to try my hand at writing well […] If I was well I might stand a chance.” In addition to struggling to publish as the 1970s came around, Brewer affirmed his belief that what he had published failed to meet his (or anyone’s) standards of respectable or memorable literature. It is the kind of self-flagellating assessment common among writers, but which carries a more profound sting for writers of genres in which respectability is neither guaranteed nor even the point in the first place.
Brewer spent the majority of his career trafficking in verbal sleaze, or at least what passed for sleaze at that time. Indeed, his entire livelihood came from writing works in which lurid narratives were rendered in a punchy, unadorned prose style — works with titles like The Angry Dream,Appointment in HellThe Vengeful VirginNude on Thin IceThe BratThe Bitchand Backwoods Teaser. They made for reading that was pleasurable and easy to digest while entirely devoid of nutrients. But it was an easy livelihood to make. Gil Brewer wanted nothing more than to be a writer, and he came of age at a time when writing was actually very good business so long as it was of a certain kind. Destined to have an impact lasting no longer than a morning commute, cheaply produced mass market paperback books took up a great deal of space in newsstands in the mid-20th century. Such a system was easy money for all involved and especially helpful in facilitating a burgeoning artistic career, as for William S. Burroughs, Harlan Ellison, and Ed Wood. For others, though, it became something of a niche from which it was very hard to escape. Brewer thought himself in the former category — an author who would somehow jump to “serious” literature — but with each book he finished, he seemed ever cursed to live the literary life of crime, knowing full well that the likelihood of his works going out of print in his lifetime was almost certain. Unfortunately, he did not live to see his works brought back into print and his name put back into the marketplace in a far more prominent position than he was ever able to attain on his own.

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