Orrie Hitt doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. “So what? Who the fuck is Orrie Hitt? I never heard of ‘im.” Well, my naive, yet astute reader, Orrie Hitt wrote a lot of books. According to one estimate, and even Hitt himself didn’t know the exact number, at least 150. Now that’s a lot of books you’ve probably never heard of. It’s not the most books ever written, and most aren’t anywhere near the best books ever written (not even close). One thing is for certain, the man wrote many, many more books than your average “celebrated” author. His cheap, undoubtedly for profit dimestore shlock more often than not dealt with lowlifes: men with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Degenerate gamblers, cheaters, hicks, drunks, pool sharks, door-to-door salesmen, auto-mechanics and con artists, along with the women that loathed, feared, and often loved them. Born losers all around. The people that in our current little slice of time some might even call “deplorables.” Big bad misogynistic men too strong not to wield their brute force, but too dumb to ever really get ahead of the con themselves.
I don’t know if Orrie himself was any of these things, although my gut tells me he must have been involved in some kind of a con at one point in his life (my money would be on C.O.D. mail-order fraud, which comes up a lot in his work). To be honest, I don’t know much about Orrie Hitt the man, and it seems that he preferred it that way. From what I gathered off the internet from a couple of pulp and sleaze paperback fan blogs, he was born in the late 1920s upstate in Colchester, now known as Roscoe, NY, wasn’t a tall guy (a measly five foot seven), or a tough guy for that matter. Instead he was a happily married man, devoted to his wife, his 4 daughters, and lived a relatively erudite, perhaps even “bookish” life in Port Jervis, New York: a sleepy little town situated along the Delaware River. He probably did a stint in the “city” at one point considering Cobble Hill and other locales show up in his work a couple of times, not unlike many creative people who searched for fame and place in New York City at one point or another. But Port Jervis was always the center of his world, the place from which all things seemed to emanate, and often terminate.
Port Jervis, NY in the fictional world of Hitt plays a role akin to Sam Peckinpah’s “Fresno.” It shows up as Port Jessup, Port Lansing, even by name itself. It’s a place both real and imagined: an origin mythos, but also a dead end. Dreams die in Port Jervis just as quickly as they’re mustered out of the working-class shlubs that live there. I assure you in the mid-2000s, Port Jervis was in no better shape than it was portrayed in Hitt’s day. In fact, my own history with Port Jervis was what initially made Orrie stand out to me among the pack of other paperback pulp purveyors I grew increasingly interested in during my early 20s. I lived for a brief time in the woods of Northeast Pennsylvania (NEPA for the uninitiated). My friends and I not-so-affectionately referred to this little town as “Dirt Jervis.” There is a single New Jersey transit line that terminates there. There is a porn shop on the main drag. There was a venue called The Vault that shut down a decade ago where I saw the absolute worst iteration of the Misfits (Jerry Only, Dez Cadena & Marky Ramone?!?) with my juggalo neighbor. There’s a bar called Dad’s Change of Pace, one of the greatest names for a bar that has arguably ever existed, and at which one of my friends has gotten jumped on multiple occasions.
Orrie and I shared this particular geography, and that is part of what pulled me into his world, made his world so real to me, even when Hitt was playing up the machismo. And while yes, Orrie’s world was the world of buxom broads and too easy seduction, it was also firmly the world of the tri-state area: the nexus of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. Not necessarily the geography we are often sold by the media as being inhabited by the redneck creeps that Orrie wrote about, but one that to anyone paying attention, rang true. And brothers and sisters, there are fewer places I’ve lived quite as strange as NEPA.
I came across Hitt’s work after I had left that rural tri-state area trap, so I never really got much of a chance to “search” for Orrie Hitt. I found a copy of The Sucker, perhaps one of Hitt’s more personal books published on Beacon Press, at the new defunct Brand Books in Glendale, CA. I was drawn in by the cover: a gauche style of oil painting common to these types of sleazecore novels. A dark-haired man on top of a busty blonde wearing a white blouse that barely conceals her heaving tits. The marketing worked. I was a single, horny 22 years old in a city I barely knew, and when I read the words “Port Jervis,” the memories flooded back. The nights playing beer pong with Section 8 goons in garages, driving aimlessly in the woods, hoping there would be somewhere, god please anywhere attractive young women would be, and being endlessly disappointed when they never materialized. We were a little like Orrie’s men: young, broke and arrogant. Always looking for a new angle, the next thrill. But in most other ways we were nothing like the men in Hitt’s novels. Orrie’s men are literary “Chads.” Large, lumbering men, 6’ 2” and muscular, dead-behind the eyes and looking to get over on as many suckers as possible, all while getting laid at every chance they could.
Hitt’s men often think they are in charge, that they’ve got every angle covered, until suddenly they don’t anymore, until it’s finally revealed to them that they are in fact the ultimate suckers. This is the most glaring contradiction in Hitt’s work: that hidden in the archetype of these men, who for all intents and purposes were created to sell the mostly-male readers (I’ll get to that in a little) an idealized image of rugged take-no-shit masculinity, were these bitter warnings about a certain type of male chauvinism, a breed of hubris which I’m sure Hitt found difficult to grapple with himself. It never comes across as resentment per say, we the reader aren’t bitter that Slade Harper in The Sucker sleeps with “one damn girl after another,” because we always see Slade from the outside, in context. The veneer of his masculinity is on the surface, and we always secretly expect him to lose. That’s what makes him a tragic figure after all, and that’s where we are able to meet and ultimately relate with the “Danny Fultons” and “Al Robbins” of Hitt’s novels.
I’m not necessarily saying that Orrie Hitt was grappling with his own sense of masculinity through many of his protagonists, but I’m not above suggesting it. It does seem a little too obvious to arm-chair pathologize a short man with a frail frame writing about big hulking men that get whatever they want sexually from women. That’s a little too on the nose Nietzschean. And Orrie’s characters were, according to him at least, attempts to write real people, with real problems, and very real shortcomings. The worldview of his novels, like most of his characters, was cynical, often by necessity and born of circumstance. Backstabbing, short changing, cheating, lying: all of these are rendered with cold detail, necessities in a world with few options and where opportunity rarely knocks on your door, if ever. His characters had to keep going because looking back would only sink them. A cold, calculating illumination of the American Spirit writ large.
“You don’t go back, you can never go back, because the wheel keeps spinning and the colors change. Everything changes. You walk away from it.” – The Sucker
The women in Orrie’s world are not the two dimensional copy and paste tropes that one might expect from a guy attempting to peddle sex novels to horny young men, either. In general much like Hitt’s men, Orrie’s women are equally fascinating for the complexity that they display below the superficiality of their figures: blonde bombshells with hour-glass curves, tits and ass for days, and complex lives filled with turmoil, envy, lust and every other human emotion one might expect of a great literary character. The dolled up waitress at the roadside diner serving greasy burgers to truckers, the insecure young woman that marries a GI too quickly, the woman forced to sell her body to get ahead, the repressed small town lesbian in love with her boss. His psychological insights were often so on point that queer theorist Susan Stryke was convinced that Hitt was actually a lesbian using a pen name: “Only one actual lesbian, Kay Addams, writing as Orrie Hitt, is known to have churned out semipornographic sleaze novels for a predominantly male audience.” And that brings us to one of Orrie’s more peculiar, uh, themes: lesbians.
There is an acute fear, or more likely, deep seated resentment of lesbians that you can find in more than a few of Orrie’s books. At first, it comes off like a cheap convention: guys love lesbians, right? Two hot girls going at each other. Sex sells. But once again, there’s something else going on here. The lesbians often undermine our main man. They outwit our protagonist, pull that final con out from under him; an angle his chauvinistic mind could never have expected, much less fathomed to begin with. To be done in by lesbians lovers that had been sexually manipulating our man all along, that’s maybe the most terrifying prospect of all to the protagonist, and by extension, the reader. This I’m assuming was what titalated the niche lesbian readerships of these largely for men novels, along with the vivid descriptions of beautiful women, of course. And it may have been Orrie himself, a man surrounded by women, that clearly loved his wife and his daughters dearly, extrapolating certain insights from. He was after all just explicating what was bubbling beneath the surface of late 1950s America: the rise of female sexual liberation. His tone is neither celebratory nor is it condemning, it just is what it is. The ladies aren’t just the marks anymore, they could be the femme fatale as well as the woman that leads you into a scam and ends up pulling the rug out from out under you too.
Orrie Hitt belongs to a group of literary men that almost nobody remembers, much less cares about, and whose impact and importance on American culture is perhaps a little hard to gauge. His lineage is thoroughly working class, lowbrow, and pornographic: for all intents and purposes, entirely outside of any sort of mainstream, academic literary world. And yet, Orrie novels serve as a reminder that populist culture never ceases to exist, in newsstands, b-movies, and often terrible music. And I’m not saying that all popular low-brow culture is good: it certainly isn’t. It’s nihilistic, obsessed with an easy dollar, cheap losses, petty redemption and the human apocalypse. It is the blood of American culture that comes out unwillingly, oozing from the pores of America’s subconscious slowly, but by necessity..
I hope that Orrie Hitt never gets that Wikipedia page. Is that irrational? Probably. All love is irrational, which is what makes it so potent. I want Orrie Hitt and his ilk to remain a little dirty secret of American Literature, and yeah, that’s selfish. You should go out and find his books and take part in that secret too (I recommend The Sucker, The Promoter, Sheba and Ellie’s Shack as good places to start). I love Orrie Hitt because our worlds collided when I least expected, at the exact moment I was attempting to escape my own suffocating life, I was sucked back in by Hitt. I was forced to reconcile with a time and a place I wanted to ignore, even forget. Like so many of Orrie Hitt’s characters, I was haunted by my past, always trying to outrun it: the economic instability, the uncertainty of early adulthood, poor parenting, having little to no direction. I wanted to think that there is always redemption, that the United States as a nation is built on it, on that “second chance.” And Orrie helped dispel me of those myths, like so much great American literature does. Hitt reminded me that more often than not, you’re the sucker. That most of us are and always will be. We might think that we’re going to get ahead, that we’re one step in front of everyone else, but more often than not there are a hundred people before of us in line and they’ve already got their paperwork filled out. Orrie Hitt reminds us that some people are just born losers. And nobody likes a loser.
— EAP is on Twitter.