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THE TOUR
By MICHAEL PERKINS (Essex House; 1969)

This novel, which is subtitled “Hell’s Heated Vacancies,” was the fourth of Michael Perkins’s fabled Essex House published fuck books, and provides just what its title promises: a tour of a most shocking and horrific Hell on Earth.

     The Hell reference is appropriate given that the novel’s primary inspiration was Dante’s INFERNO. As in that classic, the hero of THE TOUR, one Nick Hammett, a writer employed by the mob-connected playboy Peter Stone, is made to observe an infernal underworld. This occurs following a Stone-hosted Long Island party wherein Nick makes the mistake of hooking up with Stone’s sister Beatrice, who turns out to have some wild sexual proclivities. During one particularly violent tryst Nick (it seems) accidentally murders Beatrice.

     Nick is immediately contacted by Arden Browne, an aging poet with murky connections to Stone who is convinced Nick didn’t actually kill Beatrice. Browne becomes the Virgil to Nick’s Dante, taking him on a tour of Stone’s empire, which consists of numerous East Coast “circles,” each more horrific than the last. Included in these “heated Vacancies” are a burning graveyard, a mental hospital whose patients are immersed in boiling pitch, chained to trees and ripped apart by vicious hounds, and a secluded island where people are forced to wallow in burning sand and get bitten by masses of snakes. It’s here that we learn the truth about Stone, his depraved empire and Nick’s true place within it.

     Obviously THE TOUR ranks high in extravagant, and often surreal, invention, but it also has an introspective, character-driven angle. As Harlan Ellison points out in his admiring afterword (which ranks this book with Kafka’s THE TRIAL in addition to Dante), Nick’s odyssey is driven primarily by guilt and self-deception, with the horrors that confront him functioning as physical manifestations of his inner torment. It’s that balance of extravagance and introspection, together with the blunt and perverse sexual content (like his fellow Essex House contributor David Meltzer, Michael Perkins was very much an “anti-erotic” novelist), that makes THE TOUR a stand-out in the annals of adult literature, and the pinnacle of its author’s work in the field. 

     

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