Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff (1970)
by William Inge
In 1970, after reading Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff, one of the two novels by Pulitzer-winning playwright William Inge (Picnic, Bus Stop), I learned a valuable lesson. No matter how brilliant the writer (and I loved William Inge), trying too hard to be intellectually provocative can be a disaster, especially when you mix lofty intentions with horndog sex scenes in the name of literary honesty.
Could any novel, even in that decade, have been as politically incorrect as this story of Evelyn Wyckoff, a white middle-aged schoolteacher in the fictitious town of Freedom (!), Kansas? Surrounded as she is by closeted lesbian spinsters in her lonely rooming house, Miss Wyckoff's sexual tension builds until she is mounted in her classroom by the young-black-stud janitor. After repeated master-slave sexual encounters with this verbally abusive custodian, she is caught by other cleaning-crew staff in the act, screaming in pain with her breasts banging up against the piping-hot radiator as she is penetrated from behind. I'm not kidding!
This accidentally (one would hope) racist, sexist, very misguided attempt to examine loneliness and racial tension, written without a drop of irony, ends up being an unintentional howler that forever stains the reputation of this great playwright. For trash to be taken seriously, Inge should have first made fun of his own respectability, not his characters'. Otherwise, I realized, there will always be wiseasses, like myself, who will celebrate—for all the wrong reasons—ridiculously earnest attempts at literary transgression.
John Waters's latest essay collection, Role Models, came out last year.