One of the great misconceptions about the internet is that it is some sort of gateway to the sum total of human knowledge. It isn't. Every day I come across writers who, judging by the number of reprints of their novels, were clearly popular in their lifetime. But Google their names and you'll be lucky if you find even the briefest of Wikipedia entries.
One of the worst omissions is David Karp.
Born in New York City in 1922, David Karp enlisted in the US Army when he was 20 and served in the Philippines and Japan. Four years later, he returned to New York and after completing his interupted education, worked as a continuity writer for a local radio station.
In the early 1950s, Karp began to write fiction and published what came to be regarded as his "breakthrough" novel: One. It was a great critical success, acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic.
Cyril Connolly wrote:
'The publishers have bracketed this novel with "Darkness at Noon", "Nineteen Eighty-Four", and "Brave New World", which I at first thought presumptious; but now, after reading it, I am inclined to agree. '
Published four years after Ninteen Eighty-Four, One seems to tread over similar ground, depicting the plight of an individual against a dystopian, collectivist state. However, Karp's future society is far more similar to ours than Orwell's Stalinist nightmare and the "thought crimes" are more nebulous. As a result, some readers have dismissed One as a derivative, watered-down version of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
In my opinion, that is a mistake.
Whether David Karp was or wasn't familiar with Orwell's masterpiece, One succeeds on its own terms and in some ways, Karp's superficially benign state is far more menacing than the histrionics of Big Brother.
Take this exchange, for example:
Burden paused, admiring this thin, intense young man. As he listened he was able to evoke the thoughts and feelings that had come over him during the interview with Frank Conger. 'Yes,' Burden said, 'it is quite correct. Not very polite of me, but hardly heretical. At least I see no heresy in it.'
'Let me go on with the first interview with Mr Frank Conger. Mr Conger, if you remember, seized on the word naive. He pursued it because it was a sort of danger signal to him.'
'Yes, I remember,' Burden said, wondering now if Conger was, after all as clumsy and stupid as he had thought. Evidently not.
'He tried to make you explain what you had meant by it, but you kept retreating, modifying what you had said, deprecating yourself further and further until you eventually wound up lying.'
'When Conger pressed you to the point of finally admitting whether your work deserved an award or not and suggested that a realistic appraisal of your work indicated that you didn't feel you deserved an award - what did you say?'
'Well, I think I said something like - I guessed my work didn't deserve an award.'
That was the lie,' Lark said, extending a skinny forefinger.
'Yes,' Burden admitted honestly, seeing it now. 'I guess it was a lie. But you see, Conger kept at me so aggressively, trying to twist my words. Well, not twist, exactly. But to derive meanings from what I said - meanings I had no intention of -' Burden stopped abruptly, oddly blocked.
One proves that you don't need perpetual war, videoscreens and Room 101 to create an atmosphere of menace. As a work of fiction, it is thoughtful, intelligent and utterly compelling, so why has it become almost completely forgotten whilst other dystopian novels like Fahrenheit 451 are still in print?
Fortunately, some enlightened souls at Westholme Publishing have reissued David Karp's extraordinary novel and they have given me two copies to send to any reader of this blog (STOP PRESS: both copies have been snapped-up). Here's a link to the Amazon.com page.
One is of one of three books that have been reprinted by Westholme Publishing who, to quote the publisher, are "reissuing the book as part of our America Reads series, dedicated to reprinting rediscovered books from key periods in American history. This current group of three books reflects the 1950s visions of the future at a time when the H-bomb and communism appeared to threaten both the West and the future of humankind."
If you like the book, spread the word: review it on Amazon, Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere. If you don't, please report to the Department of Internal Examination at 3.00 on Wednesday, where we will discuss your negative attitudes and propose a programme of treatment.
For previous blog entries about David Karp, click here, here and here. Unfortunatelty, there is very little information about David Karp on the internet, in spite of his screenwriting credentials. There are lots of pages about two other David Karps, one of whom founded Tumblr, but the most important David Karp languishes in obscurity. That needs to change.