Raging Passions by Thomas Stone. Stork Books (1950), 128 pp.
Beautiful Bette Emerson has been sleeping her way up the career ladder at a San Francisco department store. Still in her early twenties, she’s now secretary to the owner, hyper-macho Nick Hartley, and plans to seduce him next. But he’s distracted by the problems of dissipated and purposeless son Mike, an interior decorator. And he appears happy with lovely young wife Elinor, an ex-model. Bette’s long-range scheme is to own a chain of lingerie shops. She hopes to begin by swiping one ineptly operated by former roommate Peggy Temple. Peggy, meanwhile, too sweet to succeed in business, is focusing her attention on Bette’s longtime boyfriend, Paul Carter. Whether preoccupied or no longer interested, both Nick and Paul are challenging Bette’s belief that she can use men at will.
At first glance Bette Emerson seems to be as cold and ruthless as any femme fatale. Because she cares about no one but herself, her sexual experiences never go beyond the lustful or the manipulative. She makes an unlikely protagonist for what the publisher calls “a love novel.” So gooey romance is not in the cards. Stonebraker turns instead to a kind of hyper-carnality that breaks the will and dulls the mind. She also softens Bette’s character as the plot unfolds, especially in her depiction of Bette’s relationship with the sexually unsettled Mike Hartley. As usual, Stonebraker wants to explain behavior, not merely describe it. By the end of the story she has created sympathy for all her characters. Readers will need to decide for themselves whether that’s enough to justify the they-all-went-to-the-seashore ending.