I like to share novels from my favorite eras 1920s-1950s or newer novels set in them. This is a rare gem special-ordered when a fellow writer suggested my love of Jazz, vintage and literature were wrapped up in this small volume:
The Wild Party
Booze, smokes, guns, molls and sex are all guests at The Wild Party, by Joseph Moncure March (New York; Pantheon Books 1994. Original Publication: Pascal Covici 1928). March wrote the manuscript in 1926 after resigning as editor for The New Yorker (that little Algonquin Round Table magazine – see Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle movie review for more on the New York literary jet set). But the manuscript was so hot and steamy no publisher would touch it for fear of being burned.
Some love is fire: some love is rust:
But the Fiercest, cleanest love is lust.
And their lust was tremendous, It had the feel
Of hammers clanging: and stone and steel:
And torches of the savage, roaring kind
That rip through iron, and strike men blind..
A lust so savage, they could have wrenched
The flesh from bone and not have blenched.
Not until 1928 did The Wild Party see the light of day in a limited edition of seven-hundred and fifty. In spite of its small distribution The Wild Party was a sensation. Its “banned in Boston” status only added to its reputation as a racy, raw, bawdy, depiction of everything the Jazz Age represented.
To start his tale March introduces us to Queenie written in jazz rift tempo and rhymed by design.
And she danced twice a day in vaudeville
Lips like coals aglow.
Her face was a tinted mask of snow.
What hips –
What shoulders –
What back she had!
Her legs were built to drive men mad…
And she liked her lovers violent, and vicious:
Queenie was sexually ambitious.
Burrs, her lover and live-in fits the bill: “a charming fellow: Brutal with women and proportionally yellow.” After a stormy fight they decide to get tight and a throw a party, invitation: midnight. (I couldn’t resist, the rhyme gets in your head). Peripheral characters in Queenie’s drama played by twenties archetypes, (Dapper Dan, Boxer brute, Flapper Flirt, Gay Dancing Duo, The Lesbian and Ingénue) entertain and add subterfuge. But when Queenie’s “running mate” strolls into the party with an interloper “swell” (Mr. Black) Queenie can’t resist the temptation to steal Kate’s gent and give “Burrs the spur.” Burrs doesn’t mind a little flirting, it’s what Queenie does best, but when Burrs wakes from a drunken haze to find Queenie and Black disappeared the story reaches its climax with one man dead, one man bruised, Queenie abed and cops roused.
Where do you go after The Wild Party? To Hollywood, of course. March followed up The Wild Party with The Set-Up, the story of a has-been black boxer. After it zoomed to the top of the Times Bestseller list he packed his bags and headed West. He wrote screenplays and collaborated on Hell’s Angles, contributing dialogue to the 1930s darling that made Jean Harlow a star. March also wrote documentaries and was a featured writer for the New York Times until his death in 1977.
His poems were out of print and buried under the avalanche of pulp culture until Art Speigalman (of Maus fame: iconic graphic novel depicting Spiegelman interviewing his father, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor), found a lost volume in a used bookstore. He was drawn to its 1920s typography. Not a fan of poetry he was surprised that the “syncopated rhyming couplets had the mnemonic tenacity of a nursery rhyme and to read it once was to get large shards of it permanently lodged in the brain.”
After meeting William Burroughs at a party it wasn’t until he haphazardly brought up The Wild Party that they connected and Burroughs admitted, “It’s the book that made me want to become a writer.” Speigelman was convinced. He took ink to paper and illustrated March’s novel. Vacillating between gruesome and beautiful, but always gritty, Speigleman’s illustrations capture the vibrant rhythms of the poem novella. With this 1994 reprint he invites us to The Wild Party giving us another chance to attend the hottest gathering in a century.
Vintage Enthusiast Rating:
- Fashion: ♥♥♥♥♥
- Music: ♥♥♥♥
- Dance: ♥♥
Have you read Wild Party? Have you seen Speigelman’s illustrations? What did you think? Would you have gone to this wild party if you were invited?
Tam Francis is writer, blogger, swing dance teacher, avid vintage collector, and seamstress. She shares her love of this genre through her novels, blog, and short stories. She enjoys hearing from you, sharing ideas, forging friendships, and exchanging guest blogs. For all the Girl in the Jitterbug Dress news, give-aways, events, and excitement, make sure to join her list and like her FB page! Join my list ~ Facebook page