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Story Review: The Whore of Mensa by Woody Allen

whore-mensa
The Whore of Mensa is supposedly a take-off on hard-boiled detective stories, a parody that imitates its tone and structure. I say “supposedly” because I did not realize that it was so until after I’ve read it, and while many may have found this short story humorous or amusing, I am both dismayed and discomfited to say that I found the story neither. It ought to have been evident from the fact that Woody Allen is a comedian, but then this is also the first time that I’ve read something written by him. Instead, I read (and reread) the story without fully appreciating its meaning, and was uncertain how I should take what I was reading. The failure to appreciate the story in its mocking glory, therefore, is all mine.

The story opens to Word Babcock who, distressed, engages the services of a detective, Kaiser Lupowitz. Word, a married man, is being blackmailed, and he needed Kaiser to look into a prostitution ring that peddles the services of women not for sexual favors, but for intellectual intercourse.

One thing about being a private investigator, you’ve got to learn to go with your hunches. That’s why when a quivering pat of butter named Word Babcock walked into my office and laid his cards on the table, I should have trusted the cold chill that shot up my spine.

And that was the point when I first felt uncertain. Whores for intellectual stimulation? Oh yes. In fact, clients can choose, not just between blondes and brunettes, but also whether they wanted to have a short discussion about a certain topic, or a full-length discourse – for extra cash, of course. The girls can discuss Melville and Hawthorne, and one is even working in the prostitution ring to save up money for college.

{If you were to pick a girl, what would you prefer to talk about?}

Kaiser decides to go undercover and bust the prostitution ring himself. What will happen next?

A wall of books opened, and I walked like a lamb into that bustling pleasure palace known as Flossie’s. Red flocked wallpaper and a Victorian decor set the tone. Pale, nervous girls with black-rimmed glasses and blunt-cut hair lolled around on sofas, riffling Penguin Classics provocatively. A blonde with a big smile winked at me, nodded toward a room upstairs, and said, “Wallace Stevens, eh?” But it wasn’t just intellectual experiences. They were peddling emotional ones, too. For fifty bucks, I learned, you could “relate without getting close.” For a hundred, a girl would lend you her Bartok records, have dinner, and then let you watch while she had an anxiety attack. For one-fifty, you could listen to FM radio with twins. For three bills, you got the works: A thin Jewish brunette would pretend to pick you up at the Museum of Modern Art, let you read her master’s, get you involved in a screaming quarrel at Elaine’s over Freud’s conception of women, and then fake a suicide of your choosing – the perfect evening, for some guys. Nice racket. Great town, New York.

 

I’ve read my fair share of juvenile detective stories and crime novels, but I must admit that I only have a vague idea of what is considered a “hard-boiled detective story” so much that I could pinpoint specific words or portions and compare it to The Whore of Mensa. If the story emitted sarcasm, it was lost on me; well, isn’t sarcasm always lost in print? So I read this story straightforwardly, taking it by its face value. And I liked it fine. Why would Woody Allen write a parody of the so-called “hard-boiled detective story” anyway?

Yes, why not, indeed?

Rating: 3/5
Published in Without Feathers

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