Books I Done Stole: Unforbidden Fruit by Warner Fabian
Book: Unforbidden Fruit by Warner Fabian (1928)
Stolen from: Actually, I purchased this for $1.50 from a used bookstore in St. Augustine, Florida. So maybe it shouldn't count, but it was about to be thrown out anyway, and at $1.50 it was certainly a steal to me.
A lurid title. A garish orange cover. Lettering that anticipates acid-rock posters by thirty-five years. A note on the inside under Mr. Fabian's name calling him "(Author of 'Flaming Youth,' 'Summer Bachelors,' etc.)" And then, before it even starts, we get the following "Forestallment":
Objection will be made at once by loyal alumnae of various institutions that "Unforbidden Fruit" is not representative of girls' college life as a whole. It is...not meant to be. I have deliberately chosen to present...girls of the modern, restless, experimental-minded, keen, cynical, adventurous and slightly neurotic type, pleasure-hunting and knowledge-hunting...living in the peculiar atmosphere of compressed femininity which produces an untellectual and social reaction not unlike the prison psychosis of our penal institutions. There is no doubt but that, in this environment, normal tendencies and appetites, including sex, become at times exaggerated and inflamed...
So before I had even met a single character, I'd fallen in love with the book five times. There is literally nothing to dislike. The only thing the novel could do now is renege on its early promise.
I'm tempted to say, "and it reneges with a vengeance," but that may be unfair. The book is from 1928, after all, and perhaps it was the height of salaciousness in that era to picture undergraduate girls as rude, trashy-mouthed smokers who discuss "necking" and are in constant violation of the Volstead Act.
We open at page 9, at the beginning of the school year, with the girls all lolling in the lounge, and by page 12 we have discovered that one of the characters is "lithe" (Sara La Lond, dark-haired and mysterious) and another is "tawny" (Starr Mowbray), as the girls sprawl in negligee, talking about how they spent the summer and what they plan for the year, saying things like "I never want to see a drink or a man or a nightclub again in my life," "What I heard about her not coming back, even the tabloids wouldn't print"--and, curiously, "Always beefing about sex complexes. They faire me a mal a l'estomac, that bunch." You can practically see the camera panning slowly as the author, barker for this particular sideshow, nudges you in the ribs and says, "Step right up, folks, and choose your favorite!"
But wait--on page 15, "with a single, lithe movement," Starr leaps to her feet. I thought Sara was the lithe one! How will we tell them apart? Relax. By the end of the chapter, the characters have divided themselves into fairly tidy types: Starr Mowbray is buxom, adventurous, and sloppy, and although she drifts in and out of litheness, she never stops being tawny. Her roommate, Sylvia Hartnett, is the Felix to her Oscar: Prim, Puritan, and mannered--but determined. While Starr is a committed virgin who necks with young men all up the coast and across two continents (there's a German officer looking for her, and he's presumably walking uncomfortably), Sylvia, also a virgin, nevertheless declares that she sees no point in getting all worked up and then not going through with it. When she goes, it'll be all the way. They are the two most popular girls in school.
The other two characters are Verity Chase, a dewy-eyed freshman whom the girls take on as a project, and Sara La Lond, the brilliant scholar with a dark past who spend a lot of time in her room upstairs, pacing late into the night. Although there's a promise of lots of raciness, really everyone has just one beau: Starr has her German cavalry officer, Verity falls for a hunky local boatman, Sara's tortured past is revealed (hint: she's not a virgin!) and Sylvia intrigues with young hot and popular Professor Patterson Gifford, a severe taskmaster about whom we are told that, when he discouraged gum-chewing in class, "[his] searing sardonicisms upon the subject of 'super-induced prognathism in the adolescent female jaw' had afforded vast delight to all the class..." So that's how you get laid.
But aside from the plot--which rambles happily from speakeasy to ballroom, with plenty of characters sneaking in and out of windows--the other real joy is the anachronisms. When the janitor tries to sneak a few girls out in his car, he "buttons the curtains" so no one can see inside. On one boring midsemester day, Starr and Verity pass the time by "hitch-hiking"...and Mr. Fabian helpfully explains what this radical new pastime is. A minor character turns up married, and when someone asks, "to Harvey?" the retort is, "Who did you think? Lucky Lindbergh?" And finally, there's this snippet from the night after Verity Chase tries out for a play and discovers she enjoys acting:
Upstairs, amid the steam of a potent perfume, [Verity] was gigglingly regaling her new friends with the delights of life under the bright lights, which, she wanted to tell 'em, was sure the Queen's beans!
The Queen's beans. That's this book clean through.