REVIEWS

BOOKS

The Love Machine is a computer; the input is melodrama and bizarre sex, the output, formula fiction for the bored

PHILIP SYKES September 1 1969
REVIEWS

BOOKS

The Love Machine is a computer; the input is melodrama and bizarre sex, the output, formula fiction for the bored

PHILIP SYKES September 1 1969

BOOKS

REVIEWS

PHILIP SYKES

The Love Machine is a computer; the input is melodrama and bizarre sex, the output, formula fiction for the bored

JACQUELINE SUSANN, author of The Love Machine, is herself a kind of machine. Programmed with one input of stock melodrama and another of bizarre sexology, she processes a flow of homogenized prose for a mass readership. The melodrama hopper absorbs such elements as a murdered whore and her frightened son and a pop singer who lights candles to Saint Andrew. The sex hopper takes in an overweight nympho, sadists, prostitutes, a Hollywood procurer, a party of homosexuals and a beautiful dancing transvestitite. The machine whirs, the first trousers are unzipped in three pages and the narrative oozes on at two orgasms a chapter.

It is an effective but unexciting writing technology. The uncoupling of brassieres and unzipping of trousers soon pall. They assume a pattern as conventional in its way as the social responses in Little Women. The characters are cast in pop fiction’s stereotypes, which demand that a magazine editor or a television executive be a ruthless sexual virtuoso (The Love Machine is a television executive) and that the bored wives of corporation presidents be “desperate for love before it is too late.”

The Love Machine is conventional, too, in its joylessness. Its busy sexual practitioners seem an unhappy lot. Minor characters discuss their fleshly frailties in language more squalid and less salty than that of a downtown beer parlor. The hero’s amorality is rationalized by the trauma of his childhood. After 30 chapters of hectic fornication he is destined for decent marital fulfilment. Miss Susann, perhaps, is a moralist under the skin.

This dismal pastiche is the most successful book of the year. A quarter of a million North Americans will buy hard - cover editions. Next year millions more will buy the paperback and then millions more will see the movie. The Love Machine will earn a return several times greater than Vladimir Nabokov will earn with Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle.

Yet Ada is a novel of distinction, perhaps the crowning distinction of a prolific writer’s life. At 70, the author of Lolita and Pale Fire has produced a work so big and so complex that it

constitutes a literature in itself. Ada has the dimensions and flavor of a Tolstoyan classic and yet is as contemporary as the space race. It is many things — a philosophic essay on the nature of time, the creation of a detailed universe of the imagination (it includes an America settled by the Russians and French, bikinis and airplanes at the turn-of-the-century), a trove of allusions. It can hardly be understood at one reading but it can render fresh pleasures in many.

Considered in only one of its aspects, Ada is a love story. The lovers are brother and sister; their oddly glamorous affair is developed from childhood to extreme old age. There is a subtle and exciting chemistry in their every encounter. Van and Ada Veen first meet in a mythical summer in a mythical America in a mythical time. (“Great novels are above all great fairy tales,” Nabokov tells students in his lectures.) This is old Van Veen remembering:

Hammock and honey: eighty

years later he could still recall with the young pang of the original joy his falling in love with Ada. Memory met imagination halfway in the hammock of his boyhood’s dawns. At ninety - four he liked retracing that first amorous summer not as a dream he had just had but as a recapitulation of consciousness to sustain him in the small gray hours between shallow sleep and the first pill of the day.

Hammock and honey — an Arcadian vision of a distant time and milieu, but pulsing with the remembered senses of a boy, with the “young pang of the original joy,” with the delight of an “amorous summer.” This is a missing element in Jacqueline Susann’s Love Machine: no computer can be programmed to register the young pang of original joy.

Ada is currently the literary novel, just as The Love Machine is the pop fiction. But the traditional relationship of the two genres is reversed. The difficult literary work is the one that offers a pleasurable experience.

Nabokov’s Van Veen is a man of imagination and he is ingenious in the pursuit of erotic experience. He is not markedly more moral than The Love Machine’s Robin Stone, but vastly

more interesting. Nabokov’s lovers are sometimes greedily sensual, but they are lovers. His view of human relations may be called decadent, but his lovers are true to their natures.

By this comparison, The Love Machine fails to deliver even the salacity that sells it. A reader who has felt the erotic tension between Van Veen and the two nymphet sisters who love him could hardly feel concern for the banal manipulations of The Love Machine crowd.

Next year’s paperback will bring Ada to a big audience, but it will never approach Love Machine in sales — expensive promotion and mass gullibility will see to that. Still the relative few reading Ada will enter a strange and beguiling world. The many, and perhaps it is fair to say the bored many, reading The Love Machine will tend to be confirmed in their boredom. Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle by Vladimir Nabokov (McGraw-Hill, $10.50).

The Love Machine by Jacqueline Susann (Musson, $6.95).

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NONFICTION: For the addicts of politics, presidential election returns are not complete until Theodore White has told how victory was won. The Making of The President, 1968 (McClelland & Stewart, $12), is as authoritative as his earlier presidential narratives despite strong competition this time from two lively British accounts, David English’s Divided They Stand (Prentice Hall, $8.25), the first one out, and An American Melodrama by the Insight team of the London Sunday Times (Collins, $12.50). But the most urgent political reading today is J. K. Galbraith’s How To Control The Military (Doubleday, $4.75), a detailed proposal to restore constitutional control of the American armsmakers, argued in tough, pamphleteering style.

PAPERBACKS: The novel Vladimir Nabokov calls his favorite, King, Queen, Knave, is out in Fawcett Crest at 75c.