CommentnI believe that a substantial, but nondescript, part of ournworldview comes from a few books of fiction read on thenthreshold of adolescence. These, most often, are entertainmentnnovels. Usually they are hardly what parents, teachers, ornadult well-wishers, would be inclined to put into our hands atnthat time in our lives. The literary value of these books isnrelative. However, we have long ago abandoned the notionnthat entertainment and art do not jibe; after decades of exploringnliterary modes, we know that light reading can survive as anserious and profound proposition both to enlarge our knowledgenand sublimate our sensitivities. Thus, our penchants andnsympathies—no mean components of the personality—arenformed under the giddy inebriations of quickly devoured pages.nCertainly, the standards of leisure fiction, literary as well asnthose of morals and manners, have continued to change duringnthe last three centuries. There was a time when Walter Scottnand Alexander Dumas served as edifying producers of exemplarsnfor youth, although both of them nurtured far higher ambitions.nWith the proliferation of the book as a mass-product, leisurenfiction has cheapened considerably. A definite socio-economicnlogic has been at work in this process. However, there isnevidence that the most significant factor in shaping the contentsnof the recreational book market is the overall cultural climate,nwhich is determined by prevailing moral attitudes, movementsnof ideas, and social trends, whose origins are in serious ornartistic literature.nX hus, looking only at our age, we can safely assume thatnif dime books and Elinor Glyn were the leisure fiction of then’10s, Zane Grey and Edgar Wallace of the ’20s, Vicky Baumnof the ’30s, Raymond Chandler of the ’40s—we now havenentered the post-Mickey Spillane era. Jacqueline Susann andnHarold Robbins are its conditioners of minds and consciences.nTheir major contribution is that they, and their imitators,nhave turned the gist of entertainment literature from mawkishnmelodrama and lurid sensationalism into outright depravity.nTheir programmatic cynicism is so extreme that they arousenthe suspicion that they are preordained by some ideologicalnforces.nIn the past, cruelty and kinky violence had to be allied tonvillainy and corruptness—the time-honored elements of junknreading. This is no longer so, as no coherence between gorenand wickedness is required any more. Evil is admissible asnsheer embellishment; the most morbid of acts clutter andnintersperse the narration like TV commercials, fully independentnof dramatic outlines. Spillane, Chase and their confreresnportrayed fictional subrealities with which the society couldncope; we could feel attracted by the gothic and lugubriousnwithout losing the controlling power of rejection. ThenRobbinses and Susanns are an outgrowth of a literary epoch innwhich Genet passes for a saint, Burroughs for a sage, andnVidal for a charmer, and this has proven a formidable threat tonChronicles of Culturennnsocial sanity. Today’s pulp hacks are bred on intellectual manure,ntheir books putrefy the very fiber of normalcy, but are packagednand marketed as pleasure reading. The current adolescentnmentality, bombarded with such mass-cultural offerings, formsnits primary penchants and sympathies under their influence.nAnd it would be foolish to think that the Robbinses andnSusanns do not reach an adolescent mass audience.nYet, it would be naive to scream “Horror!” “Woe!” orn”Infamy!” and lament our lost pseudo-innocence withoutnlooking for the overall cultural chemistry of the phenomenon.nTo bewail our perverted socio-moral metabolism and demandna forcible eviction of depravity in its novelistic or cinematicnexpressions would make us even more powerless. As much asnman profits from creativity, he is nevertheless helpless whenevernmoral necessities enter the field of the arts. There one has nonchance against evil and ugliness. Ages ago, writers discoverednthat sin fares better than virtue in any description of humannaffairs and quandaries. Evil was the most fashionable topic ofnearly Christianity, of its philosophy which was then indistinguishablenfrom literature, of its journalism, as performed bynmonks in their incunabula. Thus, until very recently, annunwritten principle prevailed in the letters of Western civilization:nserious literature should have a free hand in exploringnthe boundaries of man’s condition, mind, destiny and feelings,nwhereas leisure fiction was to be conventionally moral innorder not to confuse those who were seeking only pastime ornforgetfulness. Cervantes and Flaubert trenchantly demonstratednthe vulnerability of a reader’s psychology, and their lessonsnwere considered commanding for some time. The pragmaticnapplication of morality became the touchstone for creativenwriters when approaching their chosen genre. So, while seriousnliterature was accepted as the laboratory of the outermostnlimits of sinfulness and existential perils, books of entertainmentnhad nothing to do with these purlieus. It was taken for grantednthat Othello would never launch a wave of violent crimes ofnpassion, or Oedipus start an interest in incest, but it was wellunderstoodnthat too much exposure to a mindless andnunchastised Gareth Brendan, the subhuman “hero” of Robbins’nnovel (reviewed in the following pages), invites imitation amongnthe subhumans who populate much of America these days.nWerther and Bluebeard were never accorded equal rights.nThe suicidal fad that followed the former’s popularity couldnnot be considered a boon, but it didn’t threaten society orncivilization, and it might even be credited with a beneficialnenrichment of emotions. With de Sade, the German and Russiannliterature of the latter part of the XIX century, and AndrenGide’s Vatican Caves, we began to tread on thin ice. The artsnwere allowed to glamorize insanity and violence in the namenof twisted Utopian ideals, or just fulfillment of passions; theninadmissible borderline of evil became a literary test ground,nand that tendency later turned into the prose of existentialnthrills. But that’s another story.n