Subtitled An Erotocomedic Novel of Old-Time Radio, Jeremy Edwards' The Pleasure Dial is just that - an erotic, comedic, romp up and down the dial of 1930s entertainment.
Living in the digital age, it's hard to imagine a time when radio had quite the presence and significance it did back in its heyday, but Edwards does a superb job of capturing that. His is not a story of shock jocks and washed-up DJs, of commercialized entertainment, or canned amusement. Instead, it's the story of actors, comedians, and honest-to-gosh radio celebrities
The story centres on Artie Plask, a laid-back comedy writer who just so happens to get advice from department store mannequins. When his big break awaits him in Hollywood, he joins a crazy, madcap gang of writers and producers who have far too much fun for what they do to be called work. Enter Mariel (a free-spirited older woman) and Elyse (a sexually-liberated younger woman), two women who come to dominate him intellectually and emotionally.
Filled with smart, intelligent, vibrant personalities, The Pleasure Dial is a zany mess of plots, schemes, and scams. Like the old-fashioned comedies it does so well to recapture, the crazier things get, the better the story. You can't help but groan and shake your head, unable to believe some of what's going on, but it's always with a smile on your face. Things get resolved a bit to easily/quickly in the end, but it feels like a deliberate effort on Edwards' part to remain true to the material, as opposed to a literary failing.
If there's one failing to the book, it's that the erotic scenes are so wild and wanton that they kind of propel you back into the digital age. I'm not so naive as to suggest that home-video and the internet invented kinks and fetishes, but it certainly has made them more mainstream. Whereas I was expecting more of an old-fashioned burlesque show, full of titillation and suggestion, this takes a very 21st century approach to sexual freedom. The erotic scenes are tasteful, and there's no doubt they are well written, they just didn't quite seem to mesh with the comedy.
Despite that minor quibble, this was still a fun read, and definitely one of the more unique novels I've come across in a while.
[Reviewed by Sally]