I came across a discussion on Facebook a few months ago about Savage Breed, a book published in 1959, allegedly by a man from Chesterfield County, SC, my hometown county. I’d never heard of it, but some of the comments intrigued me.
There were hints of censorship.
When I moved to Cheraw all the kids were talking about this book….could not be sold in Cheraw…could not be in the library…..there was talk back then that it was actually written by a woman.
At the time (60′s) I recognized all the characters. It was really the talk of the county!
And more scandal.
I remember being told the young man’s father tried to buy up as many copies as he could, out of embarrassment over the book’s content.
I wondered if there was any truth to the stories that this book referenced places and maybe even people from home. So being the computer savvy cat that I am, I set up a few eBay, web and Amazon scripts and waited. It took almost a year, but I got a hit. Someone had a used copy for sale via Amazon.
So I bought it. For $20.
Published by Newsstand Library Books in December 1959. By William K. Douglas. 126 pages. Originally 35 cents. No “about the author” paragraph. It’s pretty clear from the “other books” pages at the back that Newsstand Library Books featured a lot of soft-core pulp and not much high-brow literature.
Nevertheless, I was happy to receive my copy of the much-discussed book. Here’s the first sentence:
“Luke Saxon turned off the Bloomfield Bypass, and got on Highway number 9. He was going to Camel, 13 miles away, to pick up Dot Silvens.” Hmm. There’s no Bloomfield back home, but there’s a Bennettsville. At first I thought maybe Camel was a thinly disguised pseudonym for Cheraw, but that turned out not to be the case. More on this below.
It takes less than 10 pages to get racy. By page 20, it’s crude and exploitative. By 2013 standards. Beyond that by 1959 standards.
First stop, “Lory’s Drive-In.” Never heard of it or anything similar to it. Same with “the Hightower,” described as the local beer joint.
In chapter 2 there’s a mention of Winthrop, “the state college for girls.” I just think of it as one of the many schools to beat Wake Forest in basketball, since Ron Wellman’s ego assassinated the program. There’s also a mention, in Chapter 2, of going to a Rock Hudson movie in…wait for it…Cheraw. That is, however, the one and only mention of Cheraw.
Mostly, it’s just one scene after another in which some brothers and their friends do horrible things to weakly portrayed women. A literary masterpiece, it is not. “When you had enough beer, you didn’t need a woman. They could go to hell, and be damned.”
In sum, two brothers and their friends do horrible things. One brother is a completely horrible person. The other brother is only around 90% horrible. 90% marries a girl, who has been abused for years by her pharmacist father. 100% impregnates her, while 90% is at work. An abused farm hand kills 100%. The abusive father marries the brothers’ young cousin. At the end, there is some small nod towards resolution, as the remaining family gathers for a completely dysfunctional Christmas meal. It’s bad, shallow writing, designed mainly to get from one soft-core scene to the next.
The more interesting question is whether any part of this was based on actual events or people from my hometown. I’d have to say unlikely, as the events are really just your run of the mill horrible acts by your run of the mill horrible people. Cheraw was mentioned exactly once, and none of the action takes place there. One existing road (Highway 9) was mentioned. Other than that, I saw nothing that sounded familiar.
I will say this, however. To the extent any of these events or people really occurred or existed, there is no doubt that this book would have been extremely scandalous when written. I also think the author would have been sued, or killed.
Bottom line? It’s poorly written, trashy pulp, likely authored by someone in or near Chesterfield County, SC. If any of the events in the book are factually accurate, it would be surprising and likely unprovable.