Intended to be a work of no redeeming social value and even less literary value, “Naked Came the Stranger” by all appearances succeeded estimably on both counts.If you're just reading about this for the first time, I would expect you to think: What's the hoax? What's the difference between this and some comically careless porn novel?
Originally issued by Lyle Stuart, an independent publisher known for subversive titles, the novel was a no-holds-barred chronicle of a suburban woman’s sexual liaisons, with each chapter recounting a different escapade:
She has sex with a mobster and sex with a rabbi. She has sex with a hippie and sex with at least one accountant. There is a scene involving a tollbooth, another involving ice cubes and still another featuring a Shetland pony.
The purported author was Penelope Ashe, who as the jacket copy told it was a “demure Long Island housewife.” In reality, Mr. McGrady had dreamed up the book as ironic commentary on the public’s appetite for Jacqueline Susann and her ilk.A fake name and identity for the author don't make a novel into a hoax. (In this case, it was a group of authors, assembled by McGrady.) The "hoax" rubric has to do with the fact that McGrady was a respected journalist and — what? — that he felt contempt for the reader? But a genre writer's contempt for the reader is typical of second-rate genre writers. I think the main thing is that McGrady achieved such extreme badness that anybody who didn't think he was being that bad on purpose was tricked.
"[The idea] came after a night of reading ‘Valley of the Dolls,’ ” he later told Newsweek, “which I couldn’t put down because I was asleep.”These men with their contempt for women — the women who read trashy books and the grande dame of trashy books Jacqueline Susann. People really did read Susann to consume the delightful trashiness. "Naked Came the Stranger" became a best-seller because it was revealed to have been a concoction, planned out by this collection of Newsday newsmen. It was after the "hoax" was revealed that people wanted to read the badness that was always meant to be bad, and the fun of it was — I think — to enjoy the contempt you feel for those other people who read the trash Susann writes. Or was it the freedom — because it's literary and savvy — to do something you'd been denying yourself: to read some sexy trash?
Surely, he reasoned, reasoned, a newsroom full of journalism’s best and brightest could together produce something just as schlocky — and just as successful. He fired off a memo to his colleagues.
“As one of Newsday’s truly outstanding literary talents, you are hereby officially invited to become the co-author of a best-selling novel,” it read. “There will be an unremitting emphasis on sex. Also, true excellence in writing will be quickly blue-penciled into oblivion.”
Here, you can still buy "Naked Came the Stranger." There's also "Stranger than naked: Or, How to write dirty books for fun and profit," by Mike McGrady. But what the hell? Respect the woman: Read "Valley of the Dolls."