Monday, August 2, 2010

The Trouble with Tramps: An Orrie Hitt Homage by Michael Hemmingson (Black Mask Books)

"You wanna know what the trouble with tramps is?" he said to me.

"Sure," I said. A good bartender always listens.

"A tramp is always a tramp. They try to fool you, they may even fool themselves. They think they've changed and maybe they want to, they say it's all behind in the past, but deen down, down their rotten cores, they're still tramps. They are born tramps and will die tramps."

Upon finishing author Michael Hemmingson's recent story collection This Other Eden, I was very interested in other works by him. But after reading such serious stuff, I was surprised to come across a romp like The Trouble with Tramps -- a pastiche of the work of author Orrie Hitt, the "Shakespeare of sleaze" who made a career of chronicling the foibles of ne'er-do-wells in his paperback originals of the 1950s and '60s.

Hemmingson is a bit of a Hitt scholar. He runs the blog Those Sexy Vintage Sleaze Books, where he has made a study of this kind of feverish writing over the past year, focusing primarily on the work of Orrie Hitt and the early years of Robert Silverberg. So, the man knows his stuff.

The Trouble with Tramps is the story of Jack Card — resident of Hittsville ("Just a stone's toss from Port Jervis") — and how he juggles his relationships with three women: his lush tramp wife Kay, his pregnant underage tramp girlfriend Lucy, and his new tramp lover Eve, who wants Jack to kill her important-businessman husband, while trying to write pulp stories in whatever free time he has.

Jack's two-hour lunch with Eve has cost him his job, which brings his problems into sharp focus. "It was the spring of 1957 and I had $52.50 to my name, with a frigid wife to support, a teenage lover to keep, and I was falling for a married woman who spent more money in a day than I did in a month."

To go into much more of the plot would ruin the fun of the reading, and The Trouble with Tramps is indeed a great deal of fun. It reads like it was written in one long burst of inspiration, but the prose is so sharp and pointed that there must have been a great deal of craft involved.

Hemmingson's skill with dialogue and character shines through, and the "sleaze" aspect is deftly handled. It's sexy without being silly and racy without resorting to raunch. Even the ending, obviously meant to shock, is done as tastefully as possible.

Plus, there's the fact that The Trouble with Tramps is so obviously a labor of love. Since most authors copy their favorite writer at some point, that Hemmingson's has been published for us to read is special indeed. I know it's made me curious for more of the work of both Hitt and Hemmingson. So, in that way, it's a good read and a terrific promotional piece.

Nitpicker's Note: For those who care about such things — and I know many people do not — this book could have really used another set of eyes to look it over. There are at least a dozen typos that are blatantly obvious — and one missing S from the beginning of "He lay down on top of me" changes the whole meaning of the sentence.

Now, I'm not saying it's anything on the scale of the story of Jose Saramago's The History of the Siege of Lisbon, where an inserted "not" effectively changes history. But, as one who instantly notices such details — that's how I became a copyeditor in the first place — it tended to take me out of the story somewhat, and The Trouble with Tramps deserves better.


David Cranmer said...

I intend to read this at some point. Michael Hemmingson is a fine writer.

Craig Clarke said...

Indeed he is.

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