Friday, January 27, 2012

Naked Came the Stranger - A Hoax of Literary Proportions (3/5)

I first heard of Naked Came the Stranger in a wikipedia entry, which referred to it as "one of the greatest literary hoaxes of all time." Given the story surrounding the book, I'd have to agree. Other articles go into all sorts of detail, but for our purposes a little bit of background will suffice. 

Several journalists at Newsday were incensed by what they perceived as the degradation of literature in the United States through sensationalism, over-sexualization, and a host of other frivolous ills. To prove their point, they took it upon themselves to write the most singularly vapid, sexually-charged book they could write and then get it published. They succeeded beyond their wildest expectations. Not only did they manage to get it published, but the book became a national best seller, at which point they began to feel guilty for all the gobs of money that rolled in and decided to reveal the hoax to the world. The funny thing was that, after the hoax was revealed, the book sold even better because of the media storm the scandal generated.

So of course I had to read it. I found an old copy of Naked Came the Stranger in a batch of used books (which is quite easy to do, given how prevalent the book was) and snagged it for later enjoyment. 

The plot is a doozey. Gillian Blake, the better half of the famous Billy & Gilly Show talk radio program, finds out that her husband is cheating on her. And instead of divorcing him like any normal person might, she decides to get her revenge by sleeping with everyone she can in their tightly-nit suburban community of King's Neck, ruining each and every man that comes in contact with her. From rabbis to devout Christians to Mafia men to gays, no one is immune to Gilly's charms. As the quintessential irresistible female she effortlessly tears through a revolving cast of men, all of whom look to her as the one thing missing in their lives. She makes her conquest, gets them hooked, and then leaves them high and dry as she progresses on to the next dunce in line. 

One would think that at the book's conclusion there would be a grand summation, some moralizing scene where the tables are turned on Gilly and she is eventually undone by her man eating ways. But one would be disappointed. No, after roughly a dozen men have bit the dust (literally in some cases—one is knocked off by the mob, one dies from a sex heart attack, and another drowns in the pool after having an ice cube shoved up his ass) she and Billy simply decide to move back to the city and the story ends. The absurdity of it actually made me laugh out loud.

Just as the authors intended, the Naked Came the Stranger is vapid and completely lacking in substance. The funny thing, though, is that there were many sections they had to rewrite before sending it to the publisher because they were actually too good. You can see a glimmer of this in a few of the passages. But by and large, the writing is just awful enough to be easily digestible by the public at large. The characters are nonsensical most of the time, the dialogue stilted and overused. Pretty much the only thing it has going for it is the risqué nature of plot--which, as we all know, was the authors' point.

The only question remaining, however, is how do I rate such a travesty? Do I rate it on the genius of the hoax or the enjoyment of the read? In the end I decided to do a little of both. I gave it a middle of the road rating at three stars, since that best reflected my overall impressions of the book. It was an entertaining read if only to get the full story on what exactly the hoax entailed, but I can't recommend it to your typical user who doesn't have an infatuation with sleazy literature. If you don't get a kick out of B-movie-ish books, then you'd be better served reading the wikipedia page and calling it a day.


  1. This is amazing. I love that you read this!! I feel as though it should be turned into a B-Movie with Bruce Cambell as the philandering husband and... I don't know, maybe Tara Reid or Heather Locklear as the wife.


    1. Haha, too bad they already made it into a movie. Though, that was in 1975 and you'll probably have no idea who the actors are... or why anyone would have wanted to make a movie out of it when they knew the whole damn thing was a hoax.

      And yeah, I have a penchant for reading sleazy vintage books. It's kind of like watching a B movie but in book form. Sometimes they're so awful the loop around and become awesome again ;)

    2. Yeah, I feel that way about noir lit sometimes. The women are usually vapid and idiotic and the men are self-destructive automatons, but I love the gritty feel and the awesome vernacular. Why women aren't described as "tall drinks of water" more often is beyond me.

    3. Yeah, Noir isn't the most female-friendly genre, is it? But you also have to keep in mind the audience and the time period. It was mostly men, and it was mostly before the women's liberation movement. Therefore, women are either objects or antagonists. More recently there's been some neo-noir that changes that (James Ellroy's latest, for instance), but yeah, your observations are spot on.

      Despite its flaws, I still love the hell out of Noir.

  2. Nice review - I think I'll stick to the wiki page. ;)

    1. Thanks. And don't worry, I completely understand. :)

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