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January 2003
 
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Curiosities

Fully Dressed and in his Right Mind by Michael Fessier (1935)

"I was standing in front of the Herald and somebody fired a shot and I saw a fat man turn slowly on one heel and fall to the sidewalk."

With this economic attention-grabbing opener, Michael Fessier's first novel promises the kind of proto-noir pleasures which, while entertaining, are hardly unique amongst 1930s thrillers. Within a few pages, however, the reader discovers that the book is no conventional murder mystery but in fact a fantasy albeit one which elegantly hedges its bets before its poignant conclusion acknowledges that at least one of its characters is something other than human.

Fessier (1907-1988), the dedicatee of Horace McCoy's They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, was a screenwriter and the author of Clovis, a 1948 novel about a super-intelligent parrot.

Fully Dressed's 1935 printings are obscure enough that more than one book-dealer advertises the 1954 paperback as a first edition. Let us do them the kindness of assuming they are ill-informed rather than unscrupulous. Whatever edition you obtain, you're in for a treat. In exhilaratingly efficient prose so lean and speedy that even a slowpoke like me can read the book in two hours Fessier whips through his bizarre tale of a contemporary San Francisco penetrated by elements (and elementals) of the fantastic. His style is facile and fun but his gaze is unblinking and dyspeptic there's a particularly disturbing scene involving the death of a child, for example and this collision of moral stances, as much as the plot's cross-genre delights, makes this seventy year old novel feel considerably more modern and alive than much of the swollen pap that passes for contemporary fantastic literature.

—Peter Atkins

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