Fredric Brown: The short Wench Is Dead
I read another one of those artifacts this week, Fredric Brown's story The Wench Is Dead, which, I have just learned from the link in this paragraph, Brown later expanded into a 1955 novel of the same name.
I call this one an artifact because its man-in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time plot seemed evocative of a time when the idea of being trapped (by middle-class morality, suburban conformity, or what have you) was a cultural current. Indeed, the protagonist is a young man of respectable background with a bachelor's degree in sociology who has fled Chicago for a few weeks of bohemian squalor before returning to a job in his father's investment business. (In the novel, apparently, he has hit the road to research his dissertation in sociology and plans to return to a teaching job in that field.)
The story seems artifact-like in the telling because its characters' grubby lifestyle (the protagonist is a wino scraping by on dishwasher's wages barely sufficient to keep him in Muscatel) is a dirty story told in an oddly clean, decorous manner. There is none of of the gritty despair David Goodis brought to stories whose characters led similar lives.
One artifactish aspect of the story serves it well. Brown must have been one of the earlier writers to begin shucking off the era's bars to descriptions of sex (or maybe paperback originals in general were ahead of their time in that respect). In any case, our introduction to the protagonist's girlfriend Billie is beautifully matter of fact about how she earns her living:
"`Jeez, only ten? Oh well, I had seven hours. Guy came here when Mike closed at two but he didn't stay long.'"© Peter Rozovsky 2013