Friday, July 3, 2009

Mr. Adam

A week or so ago we were working our way through another estate. We had boxed literally hundreds of paperbacks to bring back to the store. During the heat of battle, we don’t really stop to look at what’s there. The mission is to get it out of there, and then back to the shop where we could go through it.

As we were going through it, some pretty interesting things started to emerge. The paperbacks were vintage; many of them pre-1960. This doesn’t necessarily make them more valuable (often it is just the opposite), but it does make them much more fun.

With all due respect to the artists and writers working today (and much respect is, indeed, due), there’s nothing quite like the sensational artwork to be found on a 25¢ paperback novel of the early 1950s.

So as I was sitting and sifting through the piles and enjoying the covers, I came across one that just made me stop and grin. It is one of the (now) lesser-known novels of a (now) lesser-known novelist, but it also happens to be one of my favorite books of all time: Mr. Adam.

Whenever we get one in here at the shop, it doesn’t last too long because I am always recommending it. “Pushing it” is probably a more accurate way of putting it.

It is very much a work of the Cold War. The idea is that one of the major powers conducts a nuclear test that goes wrong. Sub-atomic particles are unleashed and spread across the globe sterilizing every male, including the unborn in the womb.

All, that is, except one milquetoast scientist who happened to be inspecting the lower levels of a lead mine at the time of the accident. He is suddenly the only fertile male left on the planet, and he will be the father of the human race. He is Mr. Adam. And just as suddenly this guy is absolutely irresistible to every woman on the planet.

That’s how the book begins. What the book is about is what happens to him once the government gets their hands on him, tries to regulate him, and builds a huge bureaucracy around him. It is a very funny book.

It was authored by Pat Frank, who was best known for his post-apocalyptic novel Alas, Babylon.

He was born Harry Hart Frank on May 5, 1908 in Chicago. He started his career as a journalist and fought World War II behind a typewriter for the Office of Strategic Services (the OSS, precursor of the CIA) and the Office of War Information.

Mr. Adam, published in 1946, was his first novel. It sold over 2-million copies. And it was followed by Hold Back the Night, An Affair of State, Forbidden Area and Alas, Babylon. He also wrote and published a non-fiction book, How To Survive The H-bomb And Why, in 1962.

He made no bones about the fact that he wrote a book whenever he needed some cash. The rest of his time was devoted to liquor and women…not necessarily in that order. Apparently he was quite a lady killer in his day. There are reports of people coming to visit him who had to make their way through jungles of bottles and ladies (plural) in various stages of decency. And that was pretty much the regular state of affairs around his writing studio.

Alas, Babylon was a whopping success when it was first published in 1959. Fifty years later it is still a staple of high school reading lists.

Frank died on October 12, 1964.

Doing a quick search of the shop, I find that we have copies of several of his books in here. Some are in our Vintage Fiction area. Others are in Science Fiction. But this particular book is going onto the paperback rack at the front, near the register. I’ll put it there not because it is a place of honor, but because it will make it much easier for me to point it out to the next customer who comes in “just looking for a good read.”

I can’t think of a better book to fit that description.