Nothing Like A Dame: Women in Pulp

Summer is prime time for lighter reading, and CPL has what you're looking for. Of course, the beach read is hardly a new concept, starting in its modern form with the pulp novel. They were inexpensive books meant to be tucked in a purse or pocket (hence, the publisher Pocket Books) and read on the train or whenever one had leisure. Often lurid takes on issues current in their heyday of the mid-20th century, these novels were pure entertainment. That doesn't mean that some of them weren't actually well-written. Today, I'd like to focus on pulp novels by women that have stood the test of time.

Two novels that were made into classic movies are Laura by Vera Caspary and Now, Voyager by Olive Higgins Prouty. Laura is vintage noir about a woman who captivates everyone, including the detective tasked with solving her murder. Now, Voyager busted contemporary ideas about psychiatry and women's roles with a tale of a woman who finds herself after a nervous breakdown.  

Bunny Lake Is Missing was also turned into a film, directed by Otto Preminger, who also directed Laura. Ann Lake has a daughter, doesn't she? When she goes to pick her daughter up from school one day, no one remembers Bunny. Another noir staple, this one also does destructive things to the stereotype of the 1950's woman. 

Of course, if you really want to throw a wrench in the works of mid-century conformity, you're going to need lesbians. Ann Bannon is considered the queen of lesbian pulp with her sympathetic (and often triumphant) depictions of same-sex love. Beebo Brinker lands in Greenwich Village after being booted out of her small, Midwestern town for wearing drag. She meets and befriends many memorable characters on both coasts, offering the reader insight into a twilit world. This is the first book in the Beebo Brinker Series.

While Valerie Taylor's The Girls in 3-B also deals with straight girls, it's lesbian Barby who ends up the happiest. Anniece and Pat end up getting married after a dalliance with a beatnik and a crush on a boss, respectively, but Barby gets true romance and an upwardly mobile future at the Store (obviously Marshall Field's, as this is set in Chicago). Taylor's takedown of Beat machismo and the boy's club of the office presages both third-wave feminism and #Metoo.

Need more sapphic pulp? There's the collection Lesbian Pulp Fiction. While some of it is just good, smutty fun, all the stories document the rise of an important postwar subculture before Stonewall. 

Have other pulp novels by and about women? Rave about them in the comments.

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