Friday, June 21, 2024

Orrie Hitt’s Trailer Tramp

Orrie Hitt’s Trailer Tramp, published by Beacon Books in 1957, falls into the trailer camp sleaze sub-genre. Trailer tramps had mushroomed across the United States in the 50s and gained a reputation as dens of iniquity. These were artificial non-permanent communities. The goings-on confirmed all the worst fears of small town America about the depravity that must invariably flourish when people don’t live in tight-knit communities in which their neighbours act of moral policemen to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Joan runs a successful trailer camp. She isn’t married. She was thinking of marrying Luke, until she discovered that Luke wanted to sleep with her. She was of course deeply shocked. Joan is a decent girl and decent girls don’t do such things. And she caught him with Nora, and Nora clearly isn’t a decent girl at all. Nora lets men do things to her. Shocking things. Nora is the type who allows men to Go All The Way, which no decent woman would ever do.

Joan does however need a man to help her run the trailer park, so (perhaps unwisely) she hires Luke. Also, perhaps unwisely, she allows Nora to rent a trailer to use for her massage business. It sounded harmless enough. With the members of a construction crew currently staying in the trailer camp Nora will get plenty of customers. The idea that a massage business could be anything but respectable has never occurred to Joan. Joan has led a very sheltered life.

The head of the construction crew is Big Mike, and she finds herself attracted to him although naturally her attraction to him is entirely innocent. She’s a decent girl. Then she discovers that after a few drinks even decent girls can become shameless tramps. She is paralysed with guilt and shame, but all is not lost. Mike will marry her. He said he would. She is sure he is really a decent guy and when a decent guy sleeps with a girl he marries her. That’s how life works.

There are all kinds of potential complications. There’s Sally, an old flame of Mike’s, but that’s nothing to worry about. She knows that Mike isn’t interested in Sally any more. He told Joan this, and she knows she can trust him.

As you may have gathered Joan is as dumb as a rock. As a character she presents a slight credibility problem. It’s impossible to believe that anyone as naïve as Joan could run a trailer camp successfully. She is entirely oblivious to the possibility that anything immoral could possibly happen there.

Orrie Hitt was at his best when his books combined mild sleaze elements with very definite noir fiction elements. Hitt was very strong when it came to creating a noir atmosphere of overheated passions and betrayals.

There is some noirness here, as seemingly harmless incidents start to point to more sinister possibilities and Joan finds herself increasingly trapped. There’s no way out for her without a scandal. And in 1957 scandal was a fate worse than death.

Joan is torn between Luke and Mike and she is tortured by the knowledge that, as awful as it may seem, she feels physical desire for both men. She is sure that she can trust one of them but not the other. One of them is lying to her, the other is telling her the truth. Her problem is that she can’t figure out which of them is the one she can trust. And Hitt manages to keep the reader unsure on this point as well.

The sleaze factor here is so mild as to be almost non-existent, but in 1957 the very fact that unmarried people are having sex, even if the sex happens offscreen as it were, was enough to make a book titillating. And there are hints of prostitution, always good for a moral scare in the 50s (in fact rather depressingly it’s still good for a moral scare today).

This is not a crime novel, but eventually there is a crime, and a serious one.

This is not one of Hitt’s better books. It’s still fairly enjoyable and recommended to Hitt fans, and to full-blown trailer camp sleaze aficionados.

The Cheaters, the genuinely sleazy Wayward Girl, the very noirish The Widow and She Got What She Wanted are all better places to start if you’re new to Orrie Hitt’s work.

Trailer Tramp is included in Stark House Cult Classics’s three-novel Trailer Tramps paperback, along with Doug Duperrault’s Trailer Camp Woman and Tom Harland’s Love Camp on Wheels.

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