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July 2002
 
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I Am Thinking of My Darling by Vincent McHugh (1943)

When the Mayor of New York announces his resignation in order to have more time to play with his model trains, his staff is finally forced to acknowledge the epidemic underway has reached an advanced stage.

In McHugh's scientifically, politically, and psychologically convincing account of several weeks when Manhattan and her sister boroughs are besieged by a South American virus that releases the inhibitions of its victims, we encounter a bridging work between Thorne Smith's Prohibition-fueled comedies and the dropout road novels of Kerouac. Neither as silly as the former nor as sober as the latter, Darling builds a strong case for a nascent hippie credo, before finally settling with wistful regret on the side of law and order, presciently rehearsing the actual tumult of the Sixties and Seventies.

Jim Rowan, our narrator and a pivotal mayoral assistant, arrives back in town from Washington and is immediately swept up in the chaos of a city gone arcadian. His wife, Niobe, has succumbed to the virus and become a ringleader among the free-love anarchists. Striving to manage his city and search for his wife simultaneously, Jim nonetheless finds time for several affairs of his own, finally catching the virus himself, but still clinging to his duties.

McHugh's jazzy book scats like an Andrews Sisters ditty, recalling the hepcat stylings of Bester and, at times, the "competent man" philosophizing of Heinlein. McHugh (1904-1983) wrote other novels, including one about an immortal man, but this one is infectious.

—Paul Di Filippo

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