Friday, February 19, 2010

Forgotten Books: Not Too Narrow... Not Too Deep by Richard Sale

Don’t be fooled by the heaving breasts. This book is not about sex. Nor is it about “Love, Violence and Hate on the High Seas”. There’s a good helping of hate, I’ll admit, but there’s no love and precious little violence. And while it may be about “Fugitives from Horror”, you’d never know it, because that horror is never portrayed, described or discussed.

What this book is about, ultimately, is Faith.

I’m a huge fan of Richard Sale. I’ve read all his novels that have been published in book form (11), and one or two that have not. I’ve read a whole bunch of pulp stories that have never been reprinted. And I’ve enjoyed every word. This book is no exception. In fact, the first half is some of the most compelling fiction I’ve ever read.

Not Too Narrow, Not Too Deep was Sale’s first novel, published in 1936, and is an amazing work for a guy only 25 years old. It starts on a French penal colony, where ten prisoners (rapists, murderers, psychos, etc) band together to buy a small boat and escape. The weird thing is, they’re joined by an eleventh man, a mysterious figure named Jean Cambreau. No one has ever seen Cambreau on the island, but he knows things about each of the ten men - in some cases things they do not yet know about themselves. He knows who will survive the journey and who won’t, and what will happen to them afterwards. Over the course of the book, all ten men are changed by the experience. Some just a little, some beyond their wildest dreams.

In the first half, which forms Book 1, Cambreau is a magical figure. Some characters are drawn to him, wondering if he might be an angel. Others are terrified, certain he’s a devil. As long as that mystery held, I found this novel almost impossible to put down. Book 2 was less compelling. Instead of deepening the mystery, Sale started telling me more than I wanted to know. Guess that proves he was human after all.

Still, for Book 1 alone, I’d say this is well worth reading. You might call it literary fiction for people who don't like literary fiction.

Not Too Narrow, Not Too Deep was the basis of the 1940 film Strange Cargo. I haven’t seen the flick, but descriptions I’ve read bear little resemblance to the book. The character played by Clark Gable, presumably the hero, is a jerk who’s washed overboard before the end of Book 1. And the book has absolutely no role for Joan Crawford. There’s only one woman in the story, and only for about three pages. She ain’t good looking and (as noted) her breasts don’t heave.

Richard Sale wrote hundreds of stories for the pulps, but is most fondly remembered for Daffy Dill, a smart-mouthed reporter who was one of the most popular characters in Detective Fiction Weekly. I don’t know how many Daffy stories appeared, but I have over two dozen, and there are a lot I don’t have. The shocking thing is, only three seem to have been reprinted. “A Nose for News” is in The Hardboiled Dicks, “Double Trouble” in Hardboiled Dames and “Three Wise Men of Babylon in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps.

That’s a shame, because Daffy tells a story like no one else. He’s witty, wacky and literate. What more can I say? You just have to experience him for yourself. Well, you’ll get your chance tomorrow - right here - as the Almanack presents, for the first time in 70 years, “A Dirge for Pagliaccio” by Richard Sale.

Find links to more of today's Forgotten Books on Patti Abbott's pattinase.


David Cranmer said...

I almost got hung up on the heaving breasts but reading farther I realize I'm very familiar with the work of Richard Sale. A very fine writer.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's story.

Bill Crider said...

So I guess your favorite movie is THE OSCAR?

Evan Lewis said...

Don't believe I've seen The Oscar, Bill. But I did see The White Buffalo, and can still smell it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I saw the movie! Never like Crawford but I remember this one because I had such a crush on Clark Gable.

George said...

I always liked STRANGE CARGO, the book and the movie.

Richard Robinson said...

I've seen Strange Cargo, and what I remember of it and your description of this book don't match, which is what you'd expect, I guess. Nice review. I've not read anything by Sale. I sure would like to read a bunch of Dill stories, I'll be looking forward to tomorrow.

Chris said...

I really like that cover (what does that say about me?), but what I really, really like is that line, "The were fugitives from horror."

It cracks me up. I hear it in some deep, ominous James Earl Jones-like voice.

"They were fugitives . . . from horror."

Or even better, in a byte like a monster truck commercial.

"They were FUUUUUUGITIiiives . . . from HORROR (orror, orror, orror)!"

Evan Lewis said...

Hey, I like that cover, too. Can't find a signature on it, but it looks like a Belarski.

I have a hold on the movie at the library, and I'm curious to see what they did to the book. The Gable character is a brute who forces his way into the group and declares himself leader. The escapees are all terrified of him, but a few quiet words from the mysterious Cambreau make him back down. He is only slightly redeemed before his early demise.

I expect Richard Sale got a laugh out of that "Fugtives from Horror" line, too.

Martin Edwards said...

I have one of Sale's books on my tbr pile and you've encouraged me to move it near the top.

Todd Mason said...

Not having read THE OSCAR the novel, I'm not sure the film can be blamed on Sale so much as upon Harlan Ellison, who permanently ashamed of the script (his only theatrical filmscript to be filmed so far) as it was meddled with by the the producers, who took co-adapter/writer "credit." NOT TOO NARROW...NOT TOO DEEP, particularly with the pb cover, is definitely a potential porn title...

Fred Salter said...

I have a number of Richard Sale in a rar file all jpgs. You can find it here.

There are maybe twenty short stories I grabbed and compiled in one spot. I have covers from the magazines they were taken from and then just the story by Sale not the whole magazine. These are from my pulp site on mediafire. Hope you all enjoy them.
Fred Salter

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