Friday, August 30, 2019

Not Comin' Home to You

Lawrence Block authored three stand-alone novels between 1969 and 1974 under the pen name of Paul Kavanagh. The third of these books was titled “Not Comin’ Home to You” and has since been re-released in several printings under Block’s own name, including an affordable eBook currently available while supplies last.

The story is loosely based on an actual 1958 murder spree conducted by Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in Nebraska. Block originally thought his fictionalized version of the events would make a good screenplay, but he abandoned that idea in favor of making it work as a novel first. When the movie “Badlands” was released dramatizing the actual Nebraska murders, the idea of adapting Block’s novel for the screen was scrapped. Fortunately, the paperback lives on.

Before the lyrical title was conceived, Block originally called his crime spree tale “Just a Couple Kids.” The kids in question are Jimmie John Hall and Betty Dienhardt, two restless young people in 1974 America. When we meet Jimmie John, he is hitchhiking through Texas high on speed with nothing but the clothes on his back and no particular destination in mind. Eventually, Jimmie meets up with restless, corruptible, and virginal Betty, and the bad decisions become supercharged as the pair hits the open road together.

The main focus of “Not Comin’ Home to You” is the manipulation and gradual corruption of Betty as the body count rises in the road trip’s wake. There’s plenty of graphic sex between 22 year-old Jimmie John and 15 year-old Betty in scenes whose appropriateness has not aged well with time. However, I won’t waste your time wringing my hands concerning honor of a fictional teen girl. The loss of her innocence - in more ways than one - made for fascinating reading. The reader bears witness as Betty grows numb to the explosions of increasingly violent opportunism displayed by Jimmie John throughout the novel.

Although Block never cites it as an inspiration, it would be hard to believe that he wasn’t familiar with John D. MacDonald’s similar adolescent thrill-kill novel, “The End of Night” from 1960. One’s ability to enjoy either book relies on your willingness to spend time with young sociopaths. This is another book where there’s really no one to root for. You can feel sorry for naive Betty, but she’s no heroine.

Block’s writing and character development are predictably excellent, but this isn’t among his greatest hits. Nevertheless, the paperback is never dull and has plenty of violence. If you’re a fan of couple-on-the-run, juvenile delinquent, bloody pulp fiction, you’ll likely enjoy “Not Comin’ Home to You.”

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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