Muscle Beach by Ira Wallach. Little, Brown (1959), 236 pp.
Carlo Cofield, now a well settled Californian, thinks back to his early days in Los Angeles. He prefaces his reminiscence with tales of his previous home, New York City, which he remembers as dirty, crowded and offering few opportunities for a salesman as talented as he. Upon his arrival in California Carlo marvels at the new environment, makes friends with songwriter Prescott Tom and his sister Toby, and begins selling swimming pools. The story doesn’t really start, however, until he visits Muscle Beach, where he meets the impossibly beautiful gymnast Jocie Kilbrough and her body-builder boyfriend Harry Fennerman. He must have Jocie, but how can he make that happen?
The key to the humor here turns on the sensibilities of Carlo, the protagonist and narrator. Though hardly an intellectual -- he sells swimming pools after all -- he likes to make fun of people with less cultural awareness. They don’t get the jokes, of course, but presumably readers do. Carlo’s remarks (especially his wordplay) are sometimes clever, but seldom are they has inventive as he seems to think they are. In addition, his attitude toward Jocie is egregiously sexist by modern standards. Although the book is a period piece that relies on condescension for much of its humor, some readers today will probably still find it amusing. It’s that taste thing.