Date: Summer 2019
Publisher: Lethe Press
Lethe Press has reissued a pulp fiction of love triangles, sexual ‘confusion’, and a serious Bi vibe. Tormented Virgin, originally published in 1962, is a nice little look back that still has some resonance today.
I will be the first to admit that I am a sucker for pulp stories. Most of the time they are so over the top and cliché that you can’t take them serious. Instead you just go along for the ride. Often contrived and rife with stereotypes and outdated attitudes, they are time capsules of the era. All that being said, Tormented Virgin is no different. Sort of.
Tormented Virgin has the makings of what its painted cover promises, two women and one man in a tangled triangle. There is music, drinking, and lustful tension so thick you need a chisel to cut through it. But… there is something more here. Something rarely, if ever, addressed in the late 50s-early 60s; a ‘somewhat’ honest depiction of struggles with non-monosexuality.
Our odd little lover’s triangle is Gene, Faye, and Mickey. Each a little island of stereotype. Gene is caring and in love, but horny, Faye is androgynous and confused; Mickey takes up the role of the obligatory predatory lesbian. Gene wants a relationship with Faye, and sex, but she has reservations, Mickey preys on Faye but fools around with Gene. And Gene likes to spend a lot of time with his boss Mark.
Wait… this all sounds suspiciously nonmonosexual. In fact is sounds downright BI! And that’s where Tormented Virgin goes from being typical pulp to a unique pulp. Faye is tortured by her attractions to both sexes. Mickey sensing this does everything she can to get Faye into her bed. Gene, developing deep feelings for Faye tries to ease her turmoil with the most effective method he can come up with; his penis.
As mentioned before, the stereotypes are strong with this one and it’s hard not look at it from our perches in the 21st century and scream at it, “Oh my god, just have sex with her, come to terms with your sexuality, and then try having a healthy relationship!” Which I may or may not have done whilst reading it in the break room at work. But even today these stereotypes have a ring of truth for those of us that have wrestled with our non-monosexuality. Faye is our confusion and our reluctance to defy the status quo which often says we are wrong to feel this way. Mickey is the willful side, the part of us that says ‘I feel this way, I have these attractions, I’m gonna get some.’ (At least for those not on the asexual spectrum). Gene personifies me at seventeen; generally clueless about my non-hetero attractions and convinced that I’m just ‘open-minded’.
I do want to say one thing about the ending, so skip this part until after you read the book. Being a reissue thoughtful history and analysis has been included. I agree with Scot Nicolay in the afterword, it feels as if the publisher didn’t care for the original ending and had him hastily construct one more to his liking. The last chapter is a bit confusing. The story is building up to a grand ending, possibly another two chapters of resolutions. Instead you run headlong into a wall. Even the construction of the narrative seems off from the rest. I would have loved to seen what the author’s original ending entailed. Given the published ending, I’m sure you can guess how Gene ‘solved’ Faye’s problem.
END SPOILER ALERT**
Yeah it can be a bit dated and contrived, but the reissue of Tormented Virgin is a fun read. It is also a little peek at a time when bisexuality was virtually unheard of and gender expectations ruled the day. But I can’t help but think some person back in 1962 picking this book up and seeing their own struggles in it, identifying with the characters, and maybe feeling a little less alone with some sort of representation.
John D Keefauver started as a journalist but also wrote a prodigious amount of short stories that were often included in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Omni Magazine, and various anthologies.
About Lethe Press:
Lethe Press is an independent publishing house specializing in the strange, the eerie, and the uncanny. Many of our books do have queer interest but we’ve grown into speculative fiction for all readers. Named after the Greek river of memory and forgetfulness, Lethe Press is devoted to ideas that are often neglected or forgotten by mainstream publishers. Founded in 2001 by author Steve Berman, Lethe Press has grown steadily to become one of the larger gay presses.
Michael R Collins is an author of stories that need be told. Often dark and sometimes seedy, they can also be poignant. They are fast-paced and atmospheric stories with characters both fantastic yet relatable. Born and raised in Southern Idaho, he currently lives in the creative bosom of Austin, Texas. If he's not working for the man, he's either writing or annoying the neighbor by playing his bass guitar far too loud.