California Literary Review

Campus Sexpot by David Carkeet

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April 10th, 2007 at 9:32 am

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Campus Sexpot
by David Carkeet
University of Georgia Press, 137 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★½☆☆

High School Sex Scandal

Once upon a time (1962) in a small nondescript town somewhere in California (Sonora), a nondescript high school teacher (Dale Koby) left the town abruptly and then wrote a fairly nondescript novel (Campus Sexpot) based loosely on a sexual scandal at the local high school starring of course Mr. Dale Koby and a senior by the name of Linda Franklin.

Naturally, the publishing of this book complete with its intrigue, loose morals, and the real citizens’ names thinly disguised, set the town on its ear. The book had SHOCK, HORROR, SCANDAL, and SMUT, screaming from every pore. And it seems, to all intents and purposes, the only people who cared or were even remotely interested in the book were the citizens of Sonora themselves.

Which is why, one is left scratching one’s head at 2005 publication of David Carkeet’s book Campus Sexpot: A Memoir.

Carkeet reveals that when the book came out in 1962, he was a “hormone saturated sophomore” at the local high school where Dale Koby taught. And now, 43 years later, he jogs down memory lane, using excerpts from Koby’s novel to share his own teenage angst, the joys and heartbreaks of living in a small town, and to provide us with a sense of the intense impact the novel had on this once sleepy town.

Yet for all its’ witticisms – including Carkeet’s keen eye and sterling writing chops, where he mercilessly dissects his former English teacher’s sloppy writing skills – one is left with a sense of “who cares?”

This, stems partially from the fact that Carkeet goes out of his way to show how Koby’s book, along with his writing career amounted to pretty much nothing. “Dale Koby’s print trail ends in 1968” Carkeet writes. Koby apparently went from “novelist to editor and maybe publisher” – writing articles and a couple of other novels but mostly low-grade porn. Koby died in 1979 without fanfare, pomp or ceremony.

Back to the head scratching. Why would a clearly talented author such as Carkeet (who according to the jacket of this book has written five novels), use – by his own admission – a not very good book written by someone else – as a literary device to write his own childhood memoir? One gets the sense that Carkeet could have written this memoir without such a cumbersome aid and we’d still want to read about his life.

Carkeet has to perform literary back flips to connect various aspects of Koby’s life to his own, and more often than not he’s forcing round pegs into square holes to achieve this aim. And that’s a shame. As a result, the narrative is choppy and the leaps become more and more difficult to achieve. Nowhere is this revealed more than at the end of Carkeet’s memoir where the final chapter is really devoted to his relationship with his father. By now, we’ve completely forgotten the tenuous connection Carkeet has made with Koby’s novel and the memoir just peters out in a wash of melancholy.

There’s no doubt Carkeet is a talented writer. Some of his observations are hilarious, others are touching and poignant, and it seems a pity that he felt he had to use someone else’s not very good work to grab the reader’s attention.

Carkeet apparently won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction for this memoir. That alone is enough to set off warning bells – what on earth is creative nonfiction? It sounds like an oxymoron; and if Koby were still alive today he might be dragging Carkeet into court for copyright infringement.

Nonetheless, Carkeet’s writing style alone is enough to make one want to seek out some of his other writings. So perhaps he achieved his goals after all.

  • anonymous

    I would like to respectfully disagree here. While the use of Dave Koby’s novel is in many ways nontraditional in a memoir, its use here dovetails amazingly well with the author’s own young search for a definition of good and bad. While Koby’s book represented all that was seen as “bad” for Sonora residents at that time, Carkeet’s life was a struggle to be seen as “good” while living with the “bad” thoughts and wants that any teen has. Because of this, I think the inclusion of Koby’s story is integral to portraying the worlds of good and bad in Carkeet’s youth.

  • A Koby

    The pulp fiction novel written by my father was intended as a snub at the small town of Sonora and some of its leading citizens – like Carkeet’s father for example – the drunk judge who could always be found at the local bar. It was not supposed to be good. It was dashed out in less than an hour.

    Just to set the record straight-it was not my father who was having the affair with the girl it was the boy’s P.E. coach who was good friends with my father. My father covered for the coach’s affair and that is what got him in trouble. My father expected the coach to come forward when the accusations were made against my father. It was a betrayal my father, then a young man fresh out of the service, never forgot. It should also be noted that the principal knew it wasn’t my father since my father wouldn’t reveal the names of who was involved he was fired. I remember visiting the coach’s home and playing with his children. I also remember the scandal, and my parents packing and leaving town in the middle of the night.

    I remember my mother being furious with my father for not breaking the ‘manly code of silence.’ The only person who didn’t know the truth about the affair was the coach’s wife.

    My father went on to become an editor and a publisher, not of pornography but of car and van magazines until he returned to teaching high school. He was killed by a drunk driver on his way to Cal State Northridge on October 9, 1979.

    Calling my father a pornographer is patently unfair as he took the job just to make money to feed his family in the wake of his being fired. He left that industry as soon as he could. He called the time he worked in that industry his greatest regret. Our family has and continues to seek out all illicit material with my father’s name on it. The material is destroyed. It was his last request.

  • David Carkeet

    For a writer there is no worse feeling than regret for what one has written. Looking back on the writing of this memoir, I can see that, caught up as I was in the exploration of my past and its links to Dale Koby’s writing, I presumed too much about the man. I also gave insufficient thought to the effect my incomplete sketch of him could have on his family. That sketch now strikes me as thoughtless and judgmental, and I regret the hurt it must have caused. –David Carkeet

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