The Generalist: CULT BOOKS: Robin Jenkins, David Wheldon, Andrew Martin, Chandler Brossard and Gerald Kersh

The Generalist (John May) covers one of my favourite authors, Gerald Kersh, as part of his Cult Books overview:

First published in 1938, this paperback edition of ‘Night and the City’ by Gerald Kersh (1911-1968) was produced by Braniac Books in 1993.

It features on the cover a still from a movie version of the book, starring Robert de Niro and Jessica Lange, directed by Irwin Winkler [who I had the pleasure of interviewing in California in 1979, when he was directing ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ – another story to be told].

It had previously been filmed in 1950 by Jules Dassin with Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney and Herbert Lom, which is considered a film noir classic. Kersh got paid for the film rights but then discovered when he read the script that they had thrown away the whole story, retaining only the title.

According to Fantastic Fiction: ‘Gerald Kersh was born in Teddington-on-Thames, London and died penniless as an American citizen in Kingston, New York. He wrote over 1,000 articles, 400 short stories, and 19 novels. His account of infantry training They Die With Their Boots Clean (1941), became an instant best-seller during World War Two, and launched Kersh on a glittering career. ‘

According the biographical note in the above paperback, ‘Kersh’s life was as strange and varied as his writing. His many occupations included stints as a nightcoub bouncer, a short-order cook, a wrestler, a soldier.’

The entry in ‘The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction’ calls him ‘a 20th century Edgar Allen Poe’, a comparison and connection which I think would be hard to justify. It says he began writing novels on toilet paper in Soho bars and that Anthony Burgess considered his best-known work ‘Fowler’s End’ to be ‘one of the best comic novels of the century’, yet his versatility and wierdness counted against him. ‘His fiction included disguised army reminiscences, noirush underworld tales and short stories in which midgets fight for the love of a beautiful multiple amputee and a ventriloquist’s relationship with his dummy takes a strange turn.’

The best source of information on the web about Gerald Kersh is ‘The Nights and Cities of Gerald Kersh’, which is hosted by a site devoted to the SF writer and anthologist Harlan Ellison. Kersh was Ellison’s favourite writer. The Kersh material, assembled by Paul Duncan, has not been updated since 1999. It says that he is writing a biography of Kersh based on research assembled over the ‘last six years.’ I have sent him an e-mail to see what has happened.
[The Wikipedia entry on Kersh is drawn from the above.]

[From The Generalist: CULT BOOKS: Robin Jenkins, David Wheldon, Andrew Martin, Chandler Brossard and Gerald Kersh]

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