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Bad Lessons in Famous Books: The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins

April 13, 2022

The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins isn’t very good. It’s supposed to be one of those ‘steamy’ epics and focuses on several characters through several time periods. It starts off with a ‘steamy’ scene that is actually rape, except the female character gets into it.

In this scene, the female character says “no” to the guy a bunch of times He gets physical, so she slaps him. He hits her in the face. And then things get steamy. She even says “Do it to me” to him. Yeah, she’s playing a psychological game with the guy, but it’s still seems a bit much.

I don’t know. I wasn’t around in 1961 when this book was written, and this scene takes place in the 1920s. Maybe women got ‘steamy’ when they got hit in the face back in the 1920s, but I doubt it. I think it’s human nature not to like getting hit in the face.

I’ve been punched in the face a few times, and I’m not sure I would have been up for getting steamy right after that. I might have needed a couple minutes for my face to recover first. There are some things that I can’t do when my teeth are rattling.

A friend of mine in high school read The Carpetbaggers and took this face-punching scene to heart. There was a girl that he liked, and he wasn’t reading her nonverbal signals. Plus, she kept saying no. You don’t need nonverbal signals when the girl keeps saying no to you.

Anyway, he got a little too grabby, so she slapped him. He hit her in the face and tried to get steamy, but she scratched his eyes and got away. Then she called the police, and he got arrested. After he got out of jail, her older brothers beat the hell out of him really good, and the police didn’t do anything about it. He ended up with scratched eyes, a sideways nose, busted teeth, a permanent limp, and a criminal record.

Oh yeah, that guy wasn’t really my friend. I just knew who he was.

I bought this copy of The Carpetbaggers for $3.00 at a used book store. I almost didn’t buy it because it has a movie version cover with a guy who looks like Steve McQueen who’s in the movie version of this book. I have nothing against Steve McQueen. It’s not like he’s Kevin Spacey on the cover of The Shipping News. Steve McQueen was way cooler than Kevin Spacey could ever hope to be. I just like to visualize characters for myself when I read.

I haven’t seen the movie version, but I don’t think Steve McQueen played the character who hit the woman in that ‘steamy’ scene. I’d be disappointed if he did. Hitting a woman in a steamy scene seems more like a Kevin Spacey move.

Besides rape that’s portrayed as steamy, The Carpetbaggers has a lot of what is called ‘plot armor’ now. For example, a main character escapes a Louisiana prison by wading through a swamp for a week. That’s it. No problem. No explanation. He just waded through it. This character was so awesome that he could wade through a Louisiana swamp with no explanation.

He does a bunch of other improbable stuff too. A bunch of hot, rich women get steamy with him. He becomes a 1920s film star. He finds the men who killed his parents. He kills the men who murdered his parents with no tension whatsoever.

And the revenge isn’t written very well. I could have accepted the plot armor and other flaws in the writing if the revenge had been written well.

I think it’s funny that a book like this was such a bestseller in the 1960s and was still being read in the 1970s and 1980s. It shows that old stuff can suck just as much as new stuff. The Carpetbaggers is like a really long James Patterson novel, except he would have split this up into at least five books and had someone else write it for him.

That’s the lesson that I took from The Carpetbaggers; old stuff can suck just as much as new stuff. Yeah, that’s probably obvious to everybody else, but I knew one guy who read The Carpetbaggers and learned a different lesson.

And that guy wasn’t my friend. I just knew who he was.

  1. I had the same feeling when I read one of those 1940s detective novels by Fredric Brown and the detective was drinking and driving throughout the whole bloody book!

    • I’ve never read any detective novels Fredric Brown, and I don’t know anybody (except you) who has read them, but I’ve known several people who have engaged in drinking and driving, and they didn’t need the Fredric Brown novels to encourage them.

  2. Sounds a lot like Forrest Gump. Just needs a gorilla-gone-wild.

    • Haha! It sounds like the novel Forrest Gump is to you what James Patterson books are to me. And
      to be honest, I didn’t finish reading The Carpetbaggers. There could be an ape/gorilla in it, and I wouldn’t know.

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