The title for this anthology was a piece of cake: As soon as I saw the tear sheets for “Bedroom Roulette” from the May 1972 issue of True Romance, I knew I had not just a perfect example of pulp romance from the 1970s, but the perfect title for the entire collection.
Bedroom Roulette encapsulates much of what interested me about True Romance and True Love stories from this period. The story grapples with the spread of the sexual revolution into mainstream American communities–by 1972, you could no longer get away with pretending “free love” or “swinging” was just something dirty hippies were doing–but the editors refuse to let their commitment to monogamy and traditional marriage slide. When Donna, the narrator, is finally lured into extramarital experimentation by her neighbors, she pays heavily for her “sins,” and is swiftly set back on the right path.
In some ways, “Bedroom Roulette” was one of the most disturbing stories that made it into the collection–and I had plenty of disturbing stories to choose from. (One story, “I Went from the Delivery Room to a Rock Festival,” got left by the wayside because it was so lurid–on a par with one of Jack Webb’s anti-drug episodes of Dragnet–that it just became silly.) Donna’s frustration at her husband’s constant absences for work is palpable, and though she recoils from the other housewives’ suggestions that she initiate a fling with one of the handymen working on their block, you can see why her resistance gets worn down. In the hands of another writer, for another magazine, this set-up could easily turn pornographic; instead, it takes a dark turn that’s far more unsettling. I’m not just talking about the immediate consequences of Donna’s decision, mind you, but about her willingness to accept all of the blame for those consequences. (I don’t want to give away too much, but I hope you’ve heard enough to want to read the story for yourself.)
Now, it was common enough in both magazines–and not just in the 1970s–that a story would end with the narrator (and sometimes her loved ones) narrowly averting disaster, maybe even experiencing a tough setback, and resolving to carry on by making the most of what life gives her. “I’ll see this through / I know now what really makes a marriage work / I’ve learned my lesson…” You see that sort of thing all the time, and you learn to accept it as part of the stock in trade.
But the end to Donna’s story runs deeper than that, and my first reaction was a combination of shock and, honestly, revulsion–with the hindsight of 40 years, it feels like a profoundly wrong character move, the antithesis of everything romance has taught me about strong female protagonists. But I never thought about keeping “Bedroom Roulette” out of this collection; despite my personal response, I believe it’s an excellent example of where pulp romance writers’ heads were at in 1972, and showing readers that was as important to me as entertaining them.
Book by: BroadLit
Edited by: Ron Hogan
Published by: BroadLit
Published: January 29, 2013
Digital and Print
Digital $4.99 USD
Digital $4.99 CAN
Digital ISBN# 978-0-9887627-1-8
Print ISBN# 978-0-9887627-0-1