Motel by Ed McBain – 1978
It’s no secret: I’m a big fan of Ed McBain. I’ve read and enjoyed dozens of his novels over the years, but I want to put in a good word here for Motel – originally published in the German edition of Playboy back in 1978. It’s a timeless character study and probably the finest short story of his I have read.
Motel is a thirty page short detailing the brief romance between Frank and Millie, the only two characters in the story. It’s set entirely in a motel room and is about how they come to terms with the stale marriages they are caught in – Frank with Mae, and Millie with Michael – while their relationship with each other changes. There is no murder, no sex, and no swearing. There’s no action of any kind. In fact, nothing really happens at all. Sounds great, right?
McBain has the keenest sense of realistic dialogue I’ve ever read in fiction, and I say that having been a huge fan of Stephen King since I was fifteen… but McBain takes it to the next level. Conversations are so simple, but beneath the surface he manages to create intrigue, depth and subtext that you just wouldn’t think possible with how basic his writing is.
And that’s not a slight on his ability – that’s genius. Prose like that is incredibly hard to write.