Friday, September 9, 2011

Death and Heroin in a Nameless City: The Scene

A Friday's Forgotten Book entry: A friend recently thrust a book into my hands -- The Scene by Clarence L. Cooper, Jr. -- and said that he had bought it as a naïve, suburban youth at a garage sale for 10 cents or a quarter. It had shocked and appalled him -- and he thought I might like it. He was right.

The Scene is something of a social/realist (or even naturalist) novel, masquerading (or, I suppose, passing) as a crime novel. The back jacket copy provides a pretty accurate synopsis: “This explosive novel sweeps bare the festering jungle of addicts, pushers, stoolies, prostitutes, pimps, killers, and cops-on-the-take to reveal that murky half-world of narcotics known as THE SCENE.” It also includes some honest cops, leaning on street dealers for a big arrest, as well as a nice, relatively clean-cut girl (who falls in love with a junkie).

The crime/policing plot keeps the story moving along, but the book is largely made up of snapshots of users, dealers, boosters, and so on. The nice, respectable people are a little flat as characters, whereas the junkies are harrowing and vivid. Several scenes depict characters who are “bogue” (there is a glossary in the back), which here means sick (or getting sick) from withdrawal. Check out, Rudy Black, who has a heavy habit, suffering from withdrawal in his jail cell: “He lay groveling on the floor, his body jerking uncontrollably, his eyes twitching, his mouth yawning until the bones in his face felt as though they were slowly breaking, the mess from his nose streaking and drying on his face in tight, slick bands. He crawled over to the toiled and threw up blood in it.”

And it gets worse. I don’t think I’ve read a book with so much vomiting -- from withdrawal and after shooting up.

Cooper wrote a handful of other novels, several of which were reprinted by Old School Books. The Scene was published by Crown (Random House) in 1960; his subsequent books came out (mostly, I think) from pulp publisher Regency House. Wikipedia tells me that Cooper -- writer, ex-con, junkie -- died in 1978 at age 43 or 44. I’m going to keep an eye out for some of his other books.


Michael A. Gonzales said...

I love this book, though I's never seen that cover before. I believe I read somewhere that Harlan Ellison used to be his editor.

Doug Levin said...

Thanks for your comment. I still haven't read any other books by Cooper. He has a prison book, I believe, that's supposed to be good. If someone put together a list of top 10 junkie novels, this should be on it.