Getting Off: A Novel of Sex & Violence Hardcover – Sep 20 2011
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"One of the best books of this or any year." - BookReporter
"...you’ll be rooting for this thoroughly beguiling serial killer on a mission. A pro’s pro, Block never wastes a word, never misplaces a plot element... it also boasts Block’s legendary craftsmanship, sly humor, and virtuoso plotting. The premise is to die for!" - Booklist
"[A] fun, fast-paced read full of steamy moments and a twist ending... a must have for pulp fiction fans." - Celebrity Cafe
"A great read from cover to cover... believe me when I say that you are in for a wonderful time." - Horror News
"A perfect treat." - Affairs Magazine
"Block has, once again, created a tale to excite and absorb even the most jaded reader of crime fiction." - Eclipse Magazine
"... compulsively readable... with a character that has a lot more to offer the reader than the genre typically maintains." - The Daily Rotation
Praise for Lawrence Block:
"There is only one writer of mystery and detective fiction who comes close to replacing the irreplaceable John D. MacDonald...The writer is Lawrence Block." - Stephen King
"Unfailingly entertaining." - The New York Times
"One of the very best writers now working the beat." - The Wall Street Journal
"Lawrence Block is a master of crime fiction." - Jonathan Kellerman
About the Author
Lawrence Block is one of the most acclaimed and highly decorated living mystery writers, having received multiple Edgar, Shamus and Maltese Falcon Awards, as well as lifetime achievement awards in the US, UK, and France.
He was named a "Grand Master" by the Mystery Writers of America, the organization's highest honor. In the 1960s and 70s he wrote seven novels under the pen name "Jill Emerson," a pseudonym he is reviving for the first time in nearly 40 years for Getting Off.
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Katherine Anne "Kitty" Tolliver was a troubled and abused girl who kept her name & her history until graduation when she would rewrite and recreate them. Now she's a new person as often as the whim takes her, and she also changes her boyfriends in the same way that most people use Kleenex. She has to, she kills them after sex you see, and believe it or not, there are people out there just crass enough to find this behavior offensive. There are even people out there called "the police" who make the special effort to butt into people's business, and who take offense at having to clean up Kitty's litter.
Kitty is, after all, a serial killer, and like all serial killers she has multiple excuses for offing her beaus. The first is that she doesn't like the idea that they might be impolite enough to brag about having shared her special favors. Another is that these people all need peace, and Kitty is just the gal to give it to them. And of course there is the main reason, and that is killing them just plain turns her on.
Then she comes up with a brainstorm. Over the years four of her lovers have escaped her precious clutches, and there is something that seems just so untidy about leaving past lovers alive to clutter up her past and to brag and tell the tale. Well, something just has got to be done about this, and while it might take some effort, Kitty is no slacker, she's up to the challenge, and you know, a girl's just gotta do what a girl's gotta do.
And it's off to the races we go as Kitty goes on her quest with a vengeance. Ummm, so to say. I have to admit that while I actually liked the mechanics of the writing, the droll black humor fits the character nicely, unfortunately that turns out to be just not enough to have kept me reading.
The basic problem is two-fold. The first is the story. It's stupefyingly, and mind-numbingly redundant. Kitty meets man, screws man, tortures man, kills man, wash, lather, rinse, repeat. EVERY SINGLE CHAPTER follows this formula, and then just as you think that it can't get any worse, Block then drags lesbianism into this dirt bath when she then meets gal pal Rita, with whom she will start with some salacious and sleazy sex, including a long, dull masturbation scene (jilling), and then clutters up this clutter with some useless information on butt plugs (?). We all know that if this were a male explicitly exploring his gay side this would never have gotten published.
We also are treated to detailed information on how c*** rings work, just before a castration scene, and extracted scenes like these just go on and on. At times I just wanted to take a bath after these scenes. It takes a lot, but Block actually managed to make me feel more sympathetic for a rapist in this novel than for the victim. Kitty tracks down her old boyfriend, an old lover, and others, and brutally kills them, along with anybody else that she whimsically feels like sleeping with, often climaxing while riding the man's dead body.
The story also suffers from a flaw in the basic story-telling structure, and that is that there is no counterpoint to Kitty's story. It's just her, sexing and killing, and killing and sexing, with a plotless story that's as subtle as a sledgehammer to the forehead. It would have been nice to have had something to counterbalance Kitty's sociopathic bloodlust, and no, Rita won't be it. Block throws himself a lifeline, and then misses it. Kitty runs into a serial killer, but while a cat-and-mouse subplot would have nicely spiced things up, Block just tosses the whole thing away as a just another filler vignette to pad this cynical and episodic novel out.
The other basic problem is Kitty herself. She's just not a very interesting person. She turns out to be an unsympathetic, sociopathic, dull, flat, shallow, torturing, hypersexual, and uninteresting character that seems to not have even one redeeming feature to fill out her static portrayal. If she were any one of the hundreds of male maniacs that have populated popular literature over past hundred years then nobody would have given a damn about her, but because she's a babe, we're all supposed to care, and find her interesting. I didn't. In the end, Kitty is a backup singer who can't handle a solo career. And while Kitty might have been readable and/or interesting in the short form she originally appeared in a series of short stories in Bronx Noir (Akashic Noir), Manhattan Noir, Indian Country Noir (Akashic Noir) and Warriors, under Block's real name, not that of Jill Emerson. Kitty might have even have carried a hundred and fifty page Fawcett Gold Medal book, (which this novel is supposed to be emulating) but there's just not enough here to justify this sleazy, overlong, redundant THREE HUNDRED plus paged bloated, lazy, and padded book.
Eventually after wasting enough of my time on this, I just got bored, and I've finally done something that I never done before, and swore that I wouldn't do. I'm reviewing a book that I just couldn't finish after the two-thirds mark; after all, I don't think any last act could have saved this. Although I did skip to the end and found little closure as nothing seemed resolved, in fact, things are just going from bad to worse. It's hard to believe that somebody who has been writing since the fifties would have taken such a backwards step in his writings, and would still turn in such bad sleazy trash. This novel seems to want to prove the adage that "It's not what you know, but who you know", because it's obvious that without Lawrence Block's name behind this, this exploitive, skid-row roughie would never have been published by a mainstream publisher. It also goes to show why the quality of the Hard Case crime line has gone downhill so much over the years. Only for the easily amused.
For almost 20 years now, whenever anyone has asked who my favorite writers are, I've always answered "Ross Thomas and Lawrence Block." And two decades on, my answer is still the same. They are both essential authors that anyone interested in popular fiction simply has to read.
For Getting Off, the book chosen by Hard Case Crime to relaunch their publishing line, Block has resurrected an old pseudonym to grace a new book. "Jill Emerson" is the pen name that he used for several books back in the Sixties. Most of them were sex romps of one type or another -- which is appropriate, given that Getting Off is a sex romp of one type or another. But it's not a type we're used to seeing.
The subtitle of the book is "A Novel of Sex & Violence" so readers should consider themselves warned, because it's filled with both. Kit Tolliver, the protagonist of the novel is a woman who loves having sex with men. The problem is, what to do with them afterward? And there she's found a rather tidy, if blood-thirsty solution. (This is where the violence part comes in.) Much like the preying mantis, she first loves the men, then she leaves them -- at room temperature.
When it occurs to her one day that earlier in her life she had relations with several men whom she didn't kill, it starts to bother her. She's not the kind of woman who likes to leave things undone. Thus, she sets out on a detective mission of sorts, tracking down her former lovers, and setting things "right."
Getting Off is a shocking book, for those of us who still have that capacity. (I'm not too sure about myself.) It is certainly not for every taste, but it is brilliantly written. It's a sexy, violent (there goes that subtitle again), disturbing, darkly humorous, and immensely entertaining novel that prompts some interesting questions about the dichotomy between love (lust?) and hate, fidelity, and how one's personality (and pathology) are shaped by the things that happen to us.
For a man in supposed retirement, Block just keeps on doing what he's always done: write great books. Let's hope this "retirement" lasts a very long time.
As the subtitle tells you, Getting Off is a novel of sex and violence. Its narrator lingers more over the sex than the violence which is of the `then I slipped the icepick into his heart' variety. The sex is not quite to the pornographic stage, but it's well beyond the R-Rated.
The Amazon product description gives away much of the story's narrative thread. This is a female serial killer novel with a protagonist who beds her victims and then murders them. Early on we find out why (SPOILER, though a predictable one: it has to do with her childhood). In the course of her picaresque adventures she realizes that a number of her lovers lived to tell the tale and she resolves to search them out and clear the slate by providing for their (eternal) rest.
Block is writing as Jill Emerson in this novel, but he's not trying too hard to fool us. An inveterate traveller and a weekend walker/racer (see his memoir, Step by Step), Getting Off has a broad canvas and his protagonist, like her creator, finds her way (comfortably) through a wide swath of American landscape. There is also the pitch-perfect dialogue and the wonderful Block details. The protagonist, Katherine Tolliver, has carried a number of nicknames, among them Kit. Unfortunately, the narrator points out, when the nickname and the surname end/begin with common consonants people have a tendency to elide the names and turn Kit Tolliver into Kit Oliver. This is the kind of seemingly innocuous detail that creates plausibility. Defoe was a master of it and Block is among his most distinguished successors.
There are multiple mysteries here. Why does Kit do what she does? Will she find all of the men on her hit list? What will happen to them? What sex/violence interludes will occur in the course of her journey? Where will she end up--behind bars or behind a white picket fence? All of these questions, as they say, will be answered to the reader's satisfaction.
Getting Off is something of a tightrope walk. It is often said that we are sympathetic to putatively unsympathetic protagonists because we get to know them in the course of the narrative. Those we know best are those who earn our greatest sympathy. This is certainly true here. Moreover, the book ends with a black-humor smile which resolves the tonal issues which Block has faced from the beginning: how can I make Kit both interesting and likeable when she is both promiscuous and homicidal? She is also quite sane and self-conscious, not a monster and not an out-of-control automaton. For all of her extreme behavior she seems like a nice girl who might want to settle down and enjoy life. How can I reconcile the studiously abnormal with the conventionally normal? And make the reader believe it? And enjoy it.
While this is not easy to do, count on the creator of both Matt Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr to be able to do it. The wonderful ending is both unexpected and, simultaneously, telegraphed early. This gives the story a chilling but delicious inevitability. Enjoy it. And thank Charles Ardai by feasting on his Hard Case Crime series.