#7 - The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie

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#7 - The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie

Postby BillGauthier » Fri Feb 18, 2005 11:48 pm

I totally forgot about this until yesterday. I figured I'd do what I've had to do often since returning to college a few years back (I still remember and appreciate Cindy's kind words of encouragement...in May -- along with two additional summer classes -- I'll have earned my degree...but I digress...): quickly skim over the story to refresh my memory and begin writing the response.

I intended on doing that.

Harlan wouldn't let me.

I got sucked into "The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie" in a way that I never did before. It's been a favorite of mine since I first read it a few years ago (five? Six? Seven maybe?) but, damn, I got SO much more out of it this time.

This novella -- it's too long to be considered a short story -- begins with a dedication to "the Memory of Dorothy Parker." One of the reasons Valerie Lone is brought back is because the producer working on the film Subterfuge, remembers a kindness she once did for him. Something small that she probably wouldn't remember but he thinks helped make him the big-league producer he is. This seems like a nod to the review Parker did of Ellison's book Gentleman Junkie that helped make his career.

The novella is told both from the film publicist's POV (his name is Fred Handy and he's the main character of the tale) in sections named for him throughout the piece, and in third-person. Handy's tale of trying to cling to his life as everything around him changes is tough. You feel for him as he fights with his back against the wall. He tries to do right by Valerie Lone but inevitably fails.

Why inevitably? Because the Hollywood in "The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie," published in 1968, in the same Hollywood that appears in Nathaneal West's novel The Day of the Locust some thirty-plus years before. It's something that takes people and devours them, turns them against each other, eats them. While West's novel ends in riot and destruction, Harlan's novella ends on a quieter but no less destructive note. Lone is resigned to do the very thing she'd attempted not to do. The other players play on, but for how long? How long can they with the shadow approaching...?

All right, everyone, have fun with it.

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Postby sjarrett » Mon Feb 21, 2005 3:39 pm

Maybe it's inevitable as these discussions unfold, but as I revisited this story I couldn't help thinking of it in terms of other Ellison stories.

The first one I thought of was the last one I read, "Jeffty is Five." Consider Fred Handy's remark that "we turn the past into the present here in Hollywood even before it's finished being the future," and that "we tear down our past and convert it to the needs of the moment." The tie to the thematic material of "Jeffty" is striking. But then consider these further thoughts on the same subject, from Handy's initial meeting with Emery Romito: "...Fred Handy knew what had killed F. Scott Fitzgerald... [Rooms] that held within their ordered interiors a kind of deadly magic of remembrance; a pull and tug of eras that refused to give up the ghost, that had not the common decency to pass away and let new times be born...And so easily hooked could anyone get on this, who chose to live after their time was passed." There's a fairly heavy ambivalence going on there, it seems to me. Handy laments the alacrity with which the past is trashed, but also is repelled by those temporal backwaters where the past is mummified beyond all reason. (I should note that the first quote is taken from a "Handy" section and the second from the omniscient narrator, but it seems clear that the narrator is channeling Handy's thoughts at that point.) Handy's ambivalence isn't that hard to resolve -- he's reacting against extremes. He evidently recognizes that there is an unhealthy pathology to be found both in trashing the past too quickly and in hanging on to it too doggedly. A similar ambivalence can be found, I think, in "Jeffty," but the ambivalence there is of a somewhat different complexion. Instead of striking a clean balance between reacting against the overly zealous mulching of the past and the overly zealous preservation of it, "Jeffty" leans wistfully in the direction of preservation before grudgingly admitting that it is ultimately a dead end.

The other Ellison tale that I was reminded of was, in an odd way, "Spider Kiss." Valerie Lone strikes me as the inverse of Stag Preston. While Preston is the genuine article, a true talent, Valerie is not. Valerie's tale begins as she is given a comeback chance because of a kindness she had done, while Preston's ends as he is denied a comeback chance because of his many monstrous unkindnesses. Preston is a shark who is unfit to be turned loose among decent people, while Valerie, while not entirely toothless -- she gives as good as she gets when ambushed on television -- is ultimately too vulnerable to be fit for the shark-infested waters of Hollywood. The two stories make for an interesting pair of bookends.

Steve J.


I keep re-reading that first passage that I quoted, the one that says "we turn the past into the present here in Hollywood even before it's finished being the future," and I can't quite make sense of it. If it said "we turn the present into the past before it's finished being the future," I could understand. When the future is finished being the future, it becomes the present and then the past, and if you rush it too much, it goes straight from future to past. That makes sense to me. But how does the past get turned into the present? I know I copied it correctly, because I've gone back to check several times. And I don't think it's a misprint, because I'm looking at "The Essential Ellison," which contains preferred texts. Is it me? Am I missing something obvious? (Wouldn't be the first time, God knows.)



Postby rich » Wed Feb 23, 2005 11:59 am

Fuckin' figures. The story I really wanted to talk about and the fuckin' book is in storage with almost all my other books and stuff.

Goddamn it! I'll get it, though, and reread it 'cause I really liked this one. Off the top of my head, though, am I the only one that saw any similarity between the opening of "Ankle-Strap" and the opening of ALL THE KING'S MEN?

(Been awhile since I read both books so I may be waaaaaaaaay off base here, but I do remember the feeling of deja-vu I experienced when I read "Ankle-Strap" for the first time. Or, maybe it was the Preparation-H in my ass at the time.)

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Postby David Loftus » Wed Feb 23, 2005 12:12 pm

This was also my first choice for the S.P.I.D.E.R., but Jan told me Bill had already snagged it. I still hope somebody allows Ellison to record the whole thing someday. Seems to be an uncharacteristic lack of input from the gang on this one, however; intimidated by the length, or just busy reading?

Definitely worth my rereading, though I'm sure I've read it at least five or six times. I'll try to fit it in this week.
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

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Postby Chuck Messer » Thu Feb 24, 2005 1:31 am

Am re-reading Resurgence.

Will stop in with useless comments later.

Of course, I'm always a little late, anyway.

Some people are wedded to their ideology the way nuns are wed to God.

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Postby Darryl » Thu Feb 24, 2005 10:02 am

This is my choice for most underrated Ellison story. Maybe I mean one of the least discussed major stories. I find it beautiful, lyrical and sad. A stunning, stunning work. It is definitely in my top 5. I'm going to grab and read it and make better comments than "me really like" fanboy stuff, but this one's a real keeper.

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Postby Barney Dannelke » Thu Feb 24, 2005 7:57 pm

I'm not going to have anything to say specific to the story this go around as I'm getting ready for the Cleveland gig on top of MANY other things but I thought I would repeat some remarks I heard about this story at I-Con.

A few years back Harlan and Barry Malzberg were doing a panel together in the main octagonal bunker up there. Dan Simmons and/or J.M. Straczinsky may have also been on that panel. Perhaps the ubiquitous Peter David. I'm sure it was cold and since it was I-Con it was probably also pissing down rain. Somewhere in a box in my library I have an audiocasette with useful details like date/time and name of panel discussion. The "name of panel" is always funny since once Harlan starts talking that goes right out the window. That is, if this bunker had windows. Which, being an octagonal concrete bunker, it did not.

ANYWAY - Barry Malzberg was talking about the creation of a unique authorial voice and he mentioned THE RETURN OF MISS ANKLE-STRAP WEDGIE. At the time he was story editor for a line of mens magazines. I have no idea if this was linked to his Scott Meredith Agency years or a whole different career for Barry. The point is that Barry singled this story out as one that made him really sit up and take notice of Harlan's growth as a writer. He also said it was one of his great regrets - and Barry has quite a few regrets, some of which, when told to you by Barry will make you want to open a vein and believe it or not, I say that with much love and respect - ONE of his regrets was that when this story was offered to him, that he did not move heaven and earth to have it published in one of these magazines.

Essentially, because of the length of TROMASW he said he would have had to take a magazine and remove most of the other features except for the photo spreads and the advertising just to make room for it. Years later he realized that nobody - and by "nobody" Barry meant the "mob" was looking at the content anyway and that he should have done it and to hell with the consequences. That it would have been the editorial pinnacle of his career. Then he went on to praise Harlan's authorial voice and said that in order to amount to something in the writing game, sooner or later that voice HAD to emerge.

Now others may say Harlan's "voice" may have emerged years earlier, but for Barry it started singing to the rafters on that day.

Anybody who remembers that panel, feel free to fill in any details I missed or screwed up. That's just what I remember.

And I'll see some of you in Cleveland.

- Barney

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Postby David Loftus » Fri Feb 25, 2005 10:58 am

I agree that while the narrator is somewhat Harlan-esque in certain ways, the narrative and the characters -- and especially the wonderful heroine -- are stunningly, admirably different from what one encounters in so many other, more typical, Ellison stories.

This one is definitely in my top five favorites.

I may not get around to rereading it this week, but I'll definitely post substantive comments on this thread eventually.
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

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Postby KristinRuhle » Sat Feb 26, 2005 12:00 am

Which book is this story in? I don't think I have it. (My copy of Essential is in storage.)


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Chuck Messer
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Postby Chuck Messer » Sat Feb 26, 2005 2:16 am

I suggest you start digging into storage. The only book I know for sure it's in is the Essential.

Some people are wedded to their ideology the way nuns are wed to God.

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Postby Tony Rabig » Sat Feb 26, 2005 2:25 am

You'll also find it in Love Ain't Nothing But Sex Misspelled.

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Wegies. . .

Postby Steve Evil » Tue Mar 01, 2005 10:05 pm

At yet. . .and yet. . .
At the end, despite her humiation, Valerie alone maintains her humanity, unlike everyone else. Saved her soul if not her carear. Is it such a tragedy then?

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Postby Chuck Messer » Wed Mar 02, 2005 3:03 am


Is Valerie Lone a tragic character? Hell, yes. She's regained her life, but it's only a simulacrum of one. Sure, she's aware of what Hollow-wood really is, unlike Emery. But that's the hell of it. She's aware of the sham. She knows hers is a kind of living death. From the story's point of view she was better off "dead", scraping cooked-on crap out of a skillet than she was at the end. She can't go back to the diner, hey! She can't have the life, the half-assed stardom she once had either.

She can't even have the satisfaction of jabbing her finger in the devil's eye, like the main character in I Have No Mouth.... If anything, she's like the creature that tends to Josef Le Braz. She was dead and her husband, out of love, resurrected her into a blasted ruin that barely looks human and has to live in that shell for God knows how long.

Like Le Braz, Fred Handy and Arthur Crewes resurrected Valerie Lone to a terrible half-life and they cannot support their guilt.

The real villain in the piece is Hollywood itself. Seen as a voracious, vacuum-mouthed thing that consumes everything in its path, it turns even the noblest intentions into something shabby and painful. Everybody in the story ends up soiled by the experience.

Valerie Lone has to live the new half-life she was not looking for. And she doesn't even have the comfort of the self-delusion Emery Romito uses as his rusted suit of armor.

To quote Lugosi's line from Ed Wood, "Nobody gives two fucks for Bela. This town, this business, it chews you up and spits you out...I'm just an ex-boogeyman."

Hollywood. Where the Veroncia Lake lookalike hung herself from the H.

And yet, if we had a chance to grab that brass ring, to have a "Written by" or "Starring" or "Directed by" credit on the screen, could we really resist?

I'm not sure I could.

Some people are wedded to their ideology the way nuns are wed to God.

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Postby P.A. Berman » Sat Mar 05, 2005 11:51 am

I finally found time to read this story. I admit it took several days, but it was well worth it. The ending was foreshadowed from the first minute, though I was pulling for Valerie Lone throughout. Yes, this was a tragedy, one of those small, human tragedies that is so sad because it's so real.

I found Fred Handy to be a very realistic character. His ambivalence is epically human-- he resurrects Valerie Lone, pumps her full of hope, but is soon filled with horror and revulsion for what happens to old stars after they die but are still walking. In the end, he too betrays her. What else can he do? (BTW, I can't help but picture Harlan as Handy when Handy is kicking Haskell Barkin's ass.)

Overall, an amazing story. I think it would make a great movie :twisted:

I don't know. I don't care. And it doesn't matter anyway. ~Jack Kerouac

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