Looking For Mister Goodbar by Judith Rossner

looking_for_mr-_goodbarnovel_1st_edition_coverTheresa Dunn is a “good girl” from a stable Catholic family in the Bronx, raised to appreciate family values, and slightly under-confident after a childhood bout with polio. Now she’s bringing a drunken doctor back to her apartment, never mind that he’s heavy and smells of beer. But at 4am, she wants him out. She hates him, she was drunk when she let him take her home from the bar, and but then she says she “acquiesced to her own rape.” Now why is this attractive, financially independent young woman, seeking out bad men for sex, when she knows they’re going to use her and treat her like dirt?

Judith Rossner wrote Looking for Mister Goodbar is something of a Jekyll & Hyde story, particularly with regard to sex. During the day she’s Theresa, the popular schoolteacher, and by night she’s Terry, who hangs out at local bars when she can’t sleep. She finds a boyfriend, a clean-cut lawyer who acts gentlemanly, but she finds him boring. She sleeps with a married college professor, has a few more boyfriends who are either decent but dull, or exciting but seem to have “avoid me” written on their faces. This is clearly a very self-destructive woman.

Is this book meant to argue that the sexual revolution of the 1970’s was a fraud? Is it trying to say that the hippy era was just an opportunity for frivolous and dangerous behavior? It’s based on a true story Roseanne Quinn, a teacher for deaf kids, who was murdered in her West 72nd street apartment in 1973. She was a friendly and well-like person, but had a habit of bringing home rough guys for rough sex, and neighbors recalled screams from her apartment and bruises on her face. The fact that she was living in that area in the 1970’s would raise eyebrows; though she was in a doorman building, it was still not a safe place for a single woman to be living alone at the time. Keep in mind that this was the same era that brought us Taxi Driver, Death Wish, Marathon Man, Basket Case, and countless other portrayals of a dangerous city. You didn’t see parents pushing strollers at 9pm.

There was an earlier true-crime book about this case called Closing Time: The True Story of the Goodbar Murders. I haven’t read it, and neither of these books are well-known today. I’m not sure how to categorize a book like this, whether to class it as a crime novel, or as some piece of forgotten New York history. Perhaps it does have to do with New York’s history, in particular the city’s appeal to single adults. New York has always been popular with men and women who have no kids, with none of the small-town norms and mores that might seem stifling to some. But there was always a dark underbelly of crime, vice, and dangers lurking on the streets after sundown. Maybe independence comes with a price?