Hard Case Crime review: Getting Off by Lawrence Block writing as Jill Emerson (#101)

So this girl walks into a bar…

When she walks out there’s a man with her. She goes to bed with him, and she likes that part. Then she kills him, and she likes that even better.

She cleans out his wallet and keeps moving, taking a new name for each change of address. She’s been doing this for a while, and she’s good at it.

Then a chance remark gets her thinking of the men who got away, the lucky ones who survived a night with her.

And now she’s a girl with a mission. Picking up their trails. Hunting them down. Crossing them off her list…

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is my favorite movie. I’m not saying it’s the greatest movie ever made or anything like that (although I have said that before), but it’s my favorite.

It’s also a film that inspires incredibly divergent reactions. Some (like me) think it’s pure genius from start to finish. Others take it as camp that’s fun but without artistic merit. Many others think it’s absolute trash. Quite a few likely walked out of it (or turned off their televisions) in disgust.

Why such divergent reactions? Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is incredibly over the top. Just when you think it can’t get any more over the top, it does. And again. And again. And then, unbelievably, again. By the end of my first viewing, the concrete theater floor was giving my jaw a closer shave than my Gillette.

I don’t think Lawrence Block’s new novel, Getting Off, is nearly as good as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (what is?), but it did remind me of it in its insistence on going as over the top as can be. Block (writing, in tiny letters on the cover, “as Jill Emerson,” a pseudonym he used for seven novels about lesbians in the ’60s and 70s) keeps going there. Again. And again. And again.

And I think it will draw a similar reaction. Some will think it’s genius. Some will enjoy it for the spectacle without necessarily thinking it’s great art (I am in this category). Some will think it’s trash. And if there are people who read it who found a coverless copy so they had no idea what they were getting into, I imagine there will be some who pitch it in disgust.

The cover is truth in advertising. Getting Off is indeed “A Novel of Sex & Violence.”

Lots and lots of sex. She does it like this. She does it like that. She does it with a Wiffle ball bat! Well, not that last one, but that’s only because Block didn’t think of it, or maybe that scene was edited out for length.

Lots and lots of violence, too. Blood, guts, guns, cuts, knives, lives, wives, nuns, sluts! Well, no nuns, but that’s only because our protagonist is mainly concerned with men.

Only a writer of Block’s skill could have pulled off (so to speak) this parade of red and white bodily fluids. Depending on what he wants to do with a scene, it can be erotic, disturbing, hilarious, terrifying, or any combination thereof. Is the novel entirely successful? I didn’t think so. But it was a lot closer to successful than I expected when it truly dawned on me just how far Block was willing to go, and how often.

I don’t know how you’ll react to Getting Off–I hope this review has given you some idea. I do know that Getting Off is destined for cult status, just like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.