Friday, November 13, 2020

Forgotten Books: CLASSIC SLEAZE (Or is it?) by ORRIE HITT

Don't remember these books? Don't want to? Don't sweat it. Art Scott remembers them so we don't have to. (Thanks, Art!) 

I'd never had any interest in reading Orrie Hitt, but Stark House sent me a double volume a while back, and I saw a swell blog post by Brian Greene calling him "the Shakespeare of Shabby Street," (HERE), so I figured I should see what all the fuss was about.

So I read Wayward Girl, and it wasn't what I expected. It's sort of two books in one, all by itself. 

The first half is a dispassionate - almost clinical - description of the life of a small town teenage prostitute. She lives with her no account mother in the bad part of town, where everyone has given up on trying to be good. She hangs out with a gang of juvenile delinquents called The Blue Devils, and aids them in their war against the rival gang The Black Cats. She got hooked on grass, graduated to heroin, and now has turn several five or ten dollar tricks every night to keep up with her habit. It's unpleasant reading, and all of the tell, not show variety. There's no drama, and nothing to arouse prurient interest. It reads like a documentary. 
In the second half, though, Hitt adds a bit of fiction. Our little tramp is sent to a reform school, where she's victimized by all and sundry. A little drama creeps in, a bit of contrivance, a little emotion, and few scenes that might have been mildly racy back in 1960. It's still unpleasant, but at least it's a story. The biggest surprise was that it came to a happy ending. Not happy for me, mind you, but unbelievably happy for the wayward girl.

Hitt is thought to have written about 150 novels, so judging him on only one isn't fair. What I can say is that as a writer, he's  perfectly competent. He puts one word after another just fine, but is almost entirely without style. Wayward Girl is a book I probably won't forget any time soon, but it did not make me want to read another.

In the end, I'm conflicted. I didn't really want to read sleaze, but since I went to the effort, I expected to be rewarded. This book just wasn't sleazy enough. Of course, Hitt's books are probably not meant to be read, anyway. They're meant to be collected and smirked at, and seem to serve that purpose quite well. 


James Reasoner said...

I'll have to disagree with you on Orrie Hitt. His work can be inconsistent and formulaic, but at his best, I think he's an excellent writer with a unique voice and vision. Since you already have a copy of THE WIDOW, I'd recommend giving it a try. It's a noir yarn more in the James M. Cain line. Here's my review of it:

Evan Lewis said...

Well, noir and James M. Cain sounds better than the tale of the teenage hooker. Thank you, sir!

Art Scott said...

Many - and I do mean MANY - years ago a woman named Joyce Gordon turned up at Tom Lesser's LA Paperback show. She was Orrie Hitt's daughter, looking for the books her father wrote. She showed up 2 or 3 years in a row and I corresponded with her a bit, since I was collecting those very publishers you showcase here. Lost track of her. Was recently going through those shelves, to scan the covers, and, by gad, his output was astounding! Is she mentioned or credited in the introductory matter of the Stark House book as a source of info about O.H.?

Evan Lewis said...

Yeah, Brian Greene's Intro, titled "Victims of Desire," begins by saying he interviewed Joyce Gordon and another daughter, Nancy Gooding, back in 2013. He mentions a little input from them, but focusses mostly on the two novels in the book. There's also a three page bibliography, including books under five pseudonyms.