My Book Notes: “All at Once, No Alice” (1940) a short story by Cornell Woolrich


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Included in The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries, Introductions and compilation by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Original, 2014). Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 11150 KB. Print Length: 1976 pp. ASIN: B00J1ISJJQ. eISBN: 978-0-8041-7279-0. “All at Once, No Alice” was first published in pulp magazine Argosy Weekly, 2 March, 1940 (Volume 297. No. 3. pp. 72-99), reprinted in EQMM in November 1951, and it was first collected in Eyes That Watch You (New York, Rinehart, 1952).

25556962Description: Jimmy Cannon, a store clerk and the narrator of the story, elopes with Alice Brown, whom he barely knows and they marry with a roadside justice of the peace. Afterwards, they can’t find an available hotel room and a clerk at the Royal Hotel allows Alice to stay in a tiny single room with a cot while Jimmy is consigned to a room at the YMCA. The next morning, Jimmy returns to retrieve Alice who appears to have vanished – and not just from the room. Her name is gone from the register, the justice of the peace claims he hasn’t married them, and the cops think Jimmy is a lunatic. And so begins a race against the clock to save Alice! (Source. Goodreads)

The picture enclosed does not belong to the edition I read.

My Take: The story takes place in the fictional town of Michianopolis to where a newlywed couple has just arrived. They soon find out there’s no room available in any of the hotels to which they are directed, on account of a large convention that is being celebrated on those days in town. In a last and desperate attempt, the Royal Hotel offers them a tiny room with a cot that has barely enough space for one person only. Alice, the woman, accepts the room, while Jimmy, her husband and the narrator of the story, finds a place to stay at the YMCA that doesn’t accept couples. The morning after, Jimmy shows up at the hotel to pick up his wife. Much to his surprise her room is empty. Moreover, no one at the hotel claims to have seen her and her name doesn’t even appear in the hotel register. Alice has disappeared without a trace, as if she never existed. Even worse, no one believes him and everyone thinks he’s making it all up. He can’t even offer any proof of her existence or that he’s telling the truth. And in this way his worst nightmare has only just started.

I have no qualms about admitting that I’m becoming a fan of Cornell Woolrich even though I’ve only read, with this, three of his short stories. I’ve just got hold of some of his short story collections and several of his novels and I’m looking forward to reading them in a not too distant future. I content myself if they are only half as good as these three short stories I’ve just read. Stay tuned.

“All at Once, No Alice” can be found in several short story collections, and it has been reviewed, among others, by Jim Noy at The invisible Event.

About the Author: A sad and lonely man who desperately dedicated books to his typewriter and to his hotel room, Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich (4 December 1903 – 25 September 1968) was born in New York City, grew up in Latin America and New York, and was educated at Columbia University, to which he left his literary estate. Almost certainly a closeted homosexual (his marriage was terminated almost immediately) and an alcoholic, Woolrich was so antisocial and reclusive that he refused to leave his hotel room when his leg became infected, ultimately resulting in its amputation. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the majority of his work has an overwhelming darkness, and few of his characters, whether good or evil, have much hope for happiness–or even justice. Whether writing as Cornell Woolrich, William Irish, or George Hopley, no twentieth-century author equalled his ability to create suspense, and Hollywood producers recognized it early on; few writers have had as many films based on their work as Woolrich, beginning with Convicted (1938) starring Rita Hayworth, and based on “Face Work”. Street of Chance (1942) was based on The Black Curtain, and starred Burgess Meredith and Claire Trevor; The Leopard Man (1943), based on Black Alibi, featured Dennis O’Keefe and Jean Brooks; and Phantom Lady (1944), based on the novel of the same title, starred Ella Raines and Alan Curtis. “Chance” led to Mark of the Whistler (1944), with Richard Dix and Janis Carter; Deadline at Dawn became a movie with the same name in 1946, starring Susan Hayward; and “It Had to Be Murder” was made into Rear Window (1954), with Grace Kelly and James Stewart. There were at least fifteen other film adaptation, not including scores for television programs. Arguably the worst film ever made from any work by Woolrich is The Return of the Whistler, a 1948 Columbia Pictures movie so loosely based on “All at Once, No Alice” that it is barely recognizable and so leaden-paced that it is barely watchable. (Source: Otto Penzler)

ArgosyWeekly-1940mar02A complete Cornell Woolrich bibliography can be found here.

Recommended Reading: Francis M. Nevins’ Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die is an enormous, in depth biography and critical study on Woolrich and his work. It is a very detailed look at Woolrich’s world. Nevins also edited the best of all Woolrich collections, Nightwebs, which contains important essays and bibliographies as well. It also contains Woolrich’s autobiographical story, “The Penny-a-Worder” (1958), which is a gentle self portrait of a pulp writer. A large amount of material on Woolrich, much of it by Nevins, is at Mystery*File. (Source: Mike Grost at A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection)

Cornell Woolrich page at Gadetection

“Who Was Cornell Woolrich?” by Richard Dooling

Pulp Kafka: The Nightmares of Cornell Woolrich BY Jake Hinkson

The Cornell Woolrich Revival by Steve Powell

Cornell Woolrich, the Dark Prince of Noir

“All at Once, No Alice” (De repente, sin Alice), un relato breve de Cornell Woolrich

Descripción: Jimmy Cannon, dependiente de una tienda y narrador de la historia, se fuga con Alice Brown, a quien apenas conoce, y se casan ante un juez de paz. Posteriormente, no pueden encontrar una habitación de hotel disponible y un empleado del hotel Royal permite que Alice se quede en una habitación individual pequeña con un catre mientras que consignan a Jimmy a una habitación en la YMCA. A la mañana siguiente, Jimmy regresa para recuperar a Alice, que parece haber desaparecido, y no solo de la habitación. Su nombre ha desaparecido del registro, el juez de paz afirma que no los ha casado y la policía cree que Jimmy es un lunático. ¡Y, así, comienza una carrera contrarreloj para salvar a Alice! (Fuente. Goodreads)

Mi opinión: La historia se desarrolla en la ciudad ficticia de Michianopolis a donde acaba de llegar una pareja de recién casados. Pronto descubren que no hay habitaciones disponibles en ninguno de los hoteles a los que se dirigen, debido a una gran convención que se celebra esos días en la ciudad. En un último y desesperado intento, el Hotel Royal les ofrece una diminuta habitación con un catre que apenas tiene espacio para una sola persona. Alice, la mujer, acepta la habitación, mientras que Jimmy, su marido y narrador de la historia, encuentra un lugar para hospedarse en el YMCA que no acepta parejas. A la mañana siguiente, Jimmy se presenta en el hotel para recoger a su mujer. Para su sorpresa, su habitación está vacía. Además, nadie en el hotel afirma haberla visto y su nombre ni siquiera aparece en el registro del hotel. Alice ha desaparecido sin dejar rastro, como si nunca hubiera existido. Peor aún, nadie le cree y todos piensan que se lo está inventando todo. Ni siquiera puede ofrecer ninguna prueba de su existencia o de que está diciendo la verdad. Y de esta forma su peor pesadilla no ha hecho más que empezar.

No tengo reparos en admitir que me estoy haciendo fan de Cornell Woolrich a pesar de que solo he leído, con este, tres de sus relatos. Acabo de hacerme con algunas de sus colecciones de relatos y varias de sus novelas y estoy deseando leerlas en un futuro no muy lejano. Me conformo con que sean la mitad de buenos que estos tres relatos que acabo de leer. Manténganse al tanto.

Sobre el autor: Un hombre triste y solitario que desesperadamente dedicaba libros a su máquina de escribir y a la habitación de su hotel, Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich (4 de diciembre de 1903 – 25 de septiembre de 1968) nació en la ciudad de Nueva York, creció en Hispanoamérica y Nueva York, y fue educado en la Universidad de Columbia, a la que legó su patrimonio literario. Casi con toda certeza un homosexual no declarado (su matrimonio terminó casi de inmediato) y un alcohólico, Woolrich era tan antisocial y solitario que se negó a salir de la habitación de su hotel cuando su pierna se infectó, que finalmente tuvo como resultado su amputación. Quizás no sea sorprendente, entonces, que la mayoría de su obra tenga una oscuridad abrumadora, y que pocos de sus personajes, ya sean buenos o malos, tengan mucha esperanza de alcanzar la felicidad, o incluso la justicia. Ya sea escribiendo como Cornell Woolrich, William Irish o George Hopley, ningún autor del siglo XX igualó su capacidad para crear suspense, y los productores de Hollywood lo reconocieron desde el principio; pocos escritores han tenido tantas películas basadas en sus obras como Woolrich, comenzando por Convicted (1938) protagonizada por Rita Hayworth, y basada en “Face Work”. Street of Chance (1942) estaba basada en The Black Curtain y fue protagonizada por Burgess Meredith y Claire Trevor; The Leopard Man (1943), basada en Black Alibi, contó con la participación de Dennis O’Keefe y Jean Brooks; y Phantom Lady (1944), basada en la novela del mismo título, protagonizada por Ella Raines y Alan Curtis. “Chance” dió lugar a Mark of the Whistler (1944), con Richard Dix y Janis Carter; Deadline at Dawn se convirtió en una película con el mismo nombre en 1946, protagonizada por Susan Hayward; y “It Had to Be Murder” se convirtió en Rear Window (1954), con Grace Kelly y James Stewart. Hubo al menos otras quince adaptaciones cinematográficas, sin incluir composiciones para programas de televisión. Podría decirse que la peor película jamás realizada a partir de cualquier trabajo de Woolrich es The Return of the Whistler, una película de Columbia Pictures de 1948 basada tan vagamente en “All at Once, No Alice” que apenas es reconocible y tiene un ritmo tan plomizo que apenas se puede ver. (Fuente: Otto Penzler)

Una bibliografía completa de Woolrich se puede encontrar aquí.

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