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The Nightclerk: Being His Perfectly True…

The Nightclerk: Being His Perfectly True Confession

by Stephen Schneck

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A couple years ago I came across this little guy, beaten and ragged, at an old book shoppe; the cult-ish '70s Grove Press logo initially drew my interest, as their publishing during the height of the counter culture often proved to be, if not genuinely good, at least interesting and worthwhile. With its cover both sexy and tacky (in that '70s-porn kind of way), and the inside adorned with praise from the likes of Holmes and Vonnegut comparing Schneck's writing to Burroughs', it seemed like it'd be right up my alley, a lost gem from the romantic 1960s to sit alongside other lost classics like Nog.

Of course you see my 2-star rating. You know already my expectations proved wrong, to the point that I can't even say the Nightclerk was interesting enough to make it worth reading. It's a mess of shallow ideas and gimmicky writing (i.e., think physical shape House of Leaves' text takes--but bad, pointless), two stories--two styles--back to back, related only in Blight's fat role. Up to page 100 it reads like a prose copy of Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad, the narrator nothing more than a camera setting up the scene by swooping down the long corridors of a San Francisco hotel, centering again and again in the lobby where Blight sat, his shifting bulk of 600+ lbs. reading penny dreadfuls and cutting out magazine photos, thinking of Crowleyan magick (for some reason(?)) as he takes payment from prostitutes and their customers; where--in an image I actually quite liked and warranted most of the 2-star positives--shadows creep up from the corners on his rotten fantasies. 100 pages of establishing the setting repeatedly, and then we're introduced to the front-cover sex kitten Katy, and it's this point that the book denegrates into nothing more than cliched pornographic fantasies and rascally attempts at slapstick.

The first half, reminiscent as it is of Resnais and Robbe-Grillet's stunningly original film, is interesting enough, but any lasting impact that could have is ruined by the dated anti-porn satire (remember that this was written in the '60s...) that takes over the last hundred pages.

If you ask me, it's out of print for good reason. Or maybe...maybe I just didn't get it...?

[24] ( )
2 vote alaskayo | Jul 2, 2012 |
  anstruther | Oct 15, 2008 |
It's an odd book: the theme is erotic fantasies, but the stories are nothing you can get horny from. A lot of sad squalor in the package of melancholic poetry, a lot of allusions to magic (written “Magick”), a deliberate mixing of fantasy and reality, and it all reads like it's a deliberate parody of someone's writing style. The sequences of words are quite musical and I liked it a lot and I'm not sure I should have, as the only redeeming part of the whole book is the style; unless you're supposed to "see through it all." Wish somebody else would review it.
  jahn | Dec 15, 2007 |
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In San Francisco there is a run-down hostelry where J. Spenser Blight, a balloon-shaped night clerk presides. He whiles away the long night hours reading 25 cent paperback erotic epics; cutting up old magazines, and reminiscing about his impossibly beautiful and equally corrupt wife, Katy. He dwells on Katy's career as a caterer to the sex-fantasies of customers Blight brings home to her. Katy is arrested and Blight must rescue her in the manner of the Marx Bros.

Oh, what games they play…! The Nightclerk, fattest man in American literature, and his consort Katy, possibly the most depraved woman of our promiscuous era – their Secrets, their Mirrors, Feathers, Silks, Paper Dolls, exquisite Valentines … the Rigorous Training of Mimi the French Maid, the Mystery of Little Lucy and other erotic outrages all delineated in The Perfectly True Confession of The Nightclerk. http://www.trashfiction.co.uk/nightcl...

The Nightclerk by Stephen Schneck was first winner of the Formentor Novel Prize. Stephen Schneck, unconventional author and screenwriter whose first novel earned the international Formentor Prize, has died. He was 63. Schneck died of lymphoma in Palm Springs on Nov. 26. That offbeat novel was "The Night Clerk," published in 1965. Although it had little sales or critical praise in the United States, the book earned $10,000 from the prize and was translated into more than a dozen languages. The novel about a 600-pound hotel night clerk became an international cult classic, and Orson Welles seriously considered making it into a film. Schneck followed that success with a second novel, "Nocturnal Vaudeville" and pragmatic books on cat and dog care. He also wrote material for San Francisco's improvisational theater troupe known as the Committee and articles for the counterculture publications Ramparts and Mother Jones.

When Schneck turned to screenwriting, he enjoyed another kind of success. Among his feature films was "Welcome to Blood City," which won first prize in the 1976 Paris Science Fiction Film Festival. Others were "High-Ballin"' starring Peter Fonda, "Inside Out" and "Across the Moon." Schneck also wrote many segments for mainstream television series including "All in the Family," "Archie Bunker's Place," "Cheers" and "In the Heat of the Night." A native of New York, Schneck studied briefly at what is now Carnegie-Mellon University. He is survived by his wife, Hadwig; a daughter, June Edelstein of New York City; a son, Matthew of London, and a brother and a sister. http://articles.latimes.com/1996-12-0...

A gangrenous novel loaded with Jungle rot and athletic foot-fetishists, The Nightclerk is pretty stunning (it has already won the $10,000 Formentor prize awarded most recently to Gisela Elsner's The Giant Dwarfs.) It is a Half-Naked Lunch, written on liquid mariJuana, propelled by LSD and sung to a morphine moon. There is NO story. The book resembles the ""Nighttown"" episode in Ulysses or Djuna Barnes' Nightwood. The main character is J. Spenser Blight, a 600-lb. nightclerk at the Travelers Hotel in murky San Francisco. Blight is a parody of bizarre degeneracy and deformity; he spends his time cutting out nudes from magazines and reading paperbacks that seem straight from Olympia Press-- girls being whipped and so on. Wednesdays, his day off, he sits around with an elderly degenerate, watching playgrounds through binoculars.

The main action of the book is Blight's realization of his fantasies via his prostitute wife. For every unsacred act his wife performs, with all sorts of perverted paraphernalia, Blight has a camera and tape recorder to transcribe the whole filthy mess. The climax, which happens off-page at the beginning of the book, is his wife's death when she leaps from a chiffonier and accidentally lands on the headboard of a bed. (The dying swan--with a thud!) The truly accurate phrase for this book is unprintable; each paragraph is tickled with a feather, and the composition smacks of a Tangiers hashish pad. Very, very imaginative but Just as (Q)uestionable with a very very big... Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1965 Publisher: Grove Press
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