George Weller was no penny-a-page ghostwriter’s imaginary pen name, but a serious journalist whose long and storied career would take him around the world as a respected newspaper and magazine correspondent, in both war and peacetime. In 1936, however, he was just starting out and wrote a rather avant-garde collection of short stories intended to echo American’s lives much as James Joyce’s Dubliners had for the Irish two decades earlier. Unfortunately, Random House’s famously hubristic and autocratic chief Bennett Cerf chose to forcibly jam all the stories within a strange, metaphorical framework of automotive references, which made it even more bewildering a read. At the height of the depression, few readers were eager to spend money on experimental fiction. The author, while never quite disavowing the book, readily admitted that it largely deserved the failure that resulted. But seventeen years later, and without Weller’s knowledge, the publishing rights to Clutch & Differential were sublet to pulp-fiction purveyor Royal Books. The new publisher re-titled it Highway Episode and splashed the cover with their typically sensationalized words and images, most of which had only the barest relevance to the stories within. I have to wonder exactly how many critics called this “the definitive fictional work…of the automobile age,” considering that as those words were being written, the book had sold fewer than 700 copies.
Last Call indicates the end of Hooniverse’s broadcast day. It’s meant to be an open forum for anyone and anything. Thread jacking is not only accepted, it’s encouraged.