Heather Babcock is an accomplished author of poetry and short fiction. She has read and performed at a gamut of live venues in Toronto. (Read more about Heather’s accomplishments here in Goodreads.)
I became friends with Heather through our mutual friend, Toronto Poet. Ed and I have enjoyed her readings at Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir and The Redhead Revue. We all share a love of things retro, especially very bad sci-fi movies from the 1950s.
I was delighted when Heather Babcock’s debut novel, Filthy Sugar was published by Inanna Publications. This independent press focuses on literature by and about women and is also the publisher of two dear friends and authors, Lisa De Nikolits and Caro Soles.
Set in the depths of the Great Depression, Filthy Sugar describes the often tawdry adventures of 19 year old, Wanda Whittle, who uses her beauty and her sexuality to get out of poverty. She ends up cruelly exploited – as a burlesque dancer, a sex worker and even as a “redeemed woman” for a tabloid – because she trusts or falls for the wrong guy. But Wanda is a fighter and in a great twist at the end of the novel (no spoilers!), she takes back control of her own life and finds real love.
It’s a credit to Heather’s terrific skills as a writer that she can unsparingly portray the romantic traps and sad situations that Wanda falls prey to and yet embody the pages with such vitality, you can’t stop turning the pages.
Heather submerged herself in the history of 1930’s culture – even listening to 1930’s music while writing – and her passion for the period creates magic on the pages. (Each chapter is referenced for history buffs.) Here are just a couple of my favorite lines:
- When the lights are dim and the cigarettes are lit, the dames look like ladies and the mugs look like gentlemen and nobody sees the blood on your shoes at the Bow Tie.
- When the only things alive are the rats in the walls and the little vampires under my mattress, it’s high time to blow.
I especially love Heather’s portrayal of 1930’s street talk. Some of the phrases are historical (she includes a dictionary at the end of the book) but the best ones, she created herself. Here’s a sampling:
- Slug burger – a poor person’s burger served on stale bread
- Crepehanger – a cynic
- Flock of salami – bullsh*t
- Underwood banger – a reporter
- Filthy sugar – dirty money
Underwood banger and best of all, filthy sugar are Heather’s own phrases. History is the loser!
BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. Five stars!