The Port of Missing Men

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The two most important things to know about Lily Neelan are that her mother is a prostitute and Lily is very good at falling from a stationary platform into a pool of water. So good, in fact, that she wins two gold medals at the 1936 Olympic games. Before Lily can attend the games, however, she must first develop the necessary skills. For that she spends long, tedious years training with Eddie G, the first of the “missing men” with whom she will spend her life.

“Missing men,” as her mother explains, are those whose past is so filled with tragedy that they have no place to go--men such as Lily’s friend and confidant Johnny Q, a pitcher on the baseball team immortalized as the Chicago “Black Sox.” If the world has written off the likes of Eddie G and Johnny Q as perpetual losers, they still have something of value to offer, particularly to the unsophisticated and unaffected daughter of the worldly and perpetually insecure Gertie Neelan.

In any event, Lily proves to be quite successful as a platform diver, and she and her mother are ready to take the next step in pursuit of “easy street.” For Lily’s mother, this simply involves restricting her favors to a single individual--in this case Albert Rexhault, former bootlegger and smuggler. Rexhault’s money will serve, insofar as Gertie is concerned, as an invisible guard dog against financial vicissitudes. Lily, on the other hand, wants to discover the truth about her heritage and pursue a romantic involvement with Gresham Young--objectives which provoke Gertie equally in that she fears the loss of her daughter will result from success in either endeavor.

THE PORT OF MISSING MEN is a modern parable revealing the inevitable loss of innocence which accompanies maturity and independence. Lily Neelan is an “everywoman” who discovers the eternal truth that freedom is a state of mind incompatible with submerging one’s existence entirely within the needs and desires of another human being. In the words of Johnny Q: “You can always tell when someone really loves ya. They’re never there when you need them the most.”