Saturday, August 22, 2020

Orrie Hitt's Wayward Girl

Orrie Hitt (1916-75) was one of the many prolific writers of American sleaze fiction of the ’50 and ’60s. He wrote around 150 such books. Wayward Girl dates from 1960 when the genre was at the height of its popularity.

Wayward Girl tells the story of Sandy Greening, a sixteen-year-old prostitute and gang member. Sandy was raped when she was fourteen and she liked it (this is of course a very politically incorrect book). After that she couldn’t get enough of men. Especially when she discovered she could take money out of having sex, thus combining business with pleasure.

She runs with the Blue Devils and they’re about to have a rumble with their hated rivals, the Black Cats. The Black Cats gang-raped one of the Blue Devil debs. That’s bad enough, but the rape occurred on Blue Devil turf. That’s much more serious. It’s a rumble which ends with one of the Black Cats dead.

Sandy doesn’t like killings but that doesn’t stop her from sleeping with the gang member who did the killing. And sex with Tommy Forbes is real nice. He’s a violent thug but that’s why the sex is real nice.

Sandy’s luck is about to change. She usually gets five dollars a trick (just enough to sustain her heroin habit) but this time the guy is willing to give her twenty-five bucks. Life is good. Or it would be, except that he’s an undercover cop. So instead of twenty-five bucks she gets six months in reform school. But this is one of the new enlightened reform schools where they really want to help the girls. She’s assured that everybody there wants to help her. They’ll teach her a skill (apart from the one that landed her in the reform school) and how to live a decent life and she’ll be able to get married and have kids and make a better America (that’s what they actually tell her).

Up to this point the book reads disturbingly like a social work treatise but don’t worry, the cynical twists are just around the corner and the sleaze factor is about to be ramped up.

Miss Hunt is the house-mother in charge of the cottage to which Sandy is assigned. Miss Hunt really wants to help her girls. She’s pretty young herself, in her early twenties, and she’s kind and idealistic. Only she looks at Sandy sorta funny. You know, the way men look at women. She tells Sandy that Sandy has really nice breasts. They’re so nice that Miss Hunt wants to touch them. And she likes to see Sandy naked. And to kiss her. And to do other things to her. Sandy is horrified but Miss Hunt is the one who will decide if she gets parole or not.

In fact the school is a hot-bed of lesbianism. Miss Hunt assures Sandy that this is OK, girls need loving and if they don’t get the kind of loving they prefer any kind of loving is better than nothing. And lots of the girls like this strange sort of loving.

One of the school’s enlightened ideas is to send the girls to nice families for weekends. Lots of families are willing to take the girls. Middle-aged couples like the Ridgeways. Mr Ridgeway is a middle-aged man but he’s really keen to help wayward girls. I mean, having sex-crazed sixteen-year-old girls spend a weekend with nice middle-aged men whose wives don’t understand them - what could possibly go wrong?

So while at the reform school Sandy actually has sex more often than she did when was a prostitute on the outside. The only difference is that now she doesn’t get paid for it.

Sandy is in the biggest trouble she’s ever been in. She’s trapped. She can’t escape the sexual attentions of either Miss Hunt or Mr Ridgeway and then when she gets there’s going to be problem of Tommy Forbes and the Blue Devils. She can’t escape either her past or her present nightmares.

Compared to Gang Girl by Robert Silverberg (written under the pseudonym Don Elliott) the sex in Wayward Girl is less graphic, the rapes take place offstage so to speak and the violence is toned down a little. The whole tone is rather different as well. The heroine is more of a conventional victim of circumstances rather than being the depraved monster of Gang Girl. The two novels do however have a number of things in common - the casual senseless brutality of gang life, the atmosphere of sleaze and a honest acceptance of the reality of female sexual pleasure in casual sex. Which was not the sort of thing that was considered respectable at the tie, but then these novels are not concerned with respectability.

Both books also belong to the same milieu as the exploitation movies of the same era - glorying in trashiness and depravity while covering themselves by appearing to deplore such things and occasionally treating their subject matter with an honesty and directness not found in the mainstream of either cinema or literature. And like exploitation movies, they’re great fun. Not clean wholesome fun, but fun nonetheless.

Wayward Girl has been re-issued by Stark House in their series of noir reprints, in an edition that also includes another Orrie Hitt sleaze classic, The Widow.

Wayward Girl is obviously recommended to sleaze fans but noir fans may find themselves enjoying it as well.

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