Unfaithful Wives by Orrie Hitt (Beacon Books #126, 1958)
An excellent Hitt novel from early in his career — in 1958, he published, with Beacon,a number of sleazecore gams: Pushover, Sucker, Sheba, The Promoters, Wayward Girl, and this one. (Others, like Hot Cargo, which seemed to be composed with a co-writer, were not as good.)
Unfaithful Wives is a multi-character story. At first, we wondered if this was an actual Hitt-penned book, perhaps a collaboration, because it has 26 short chapters rather than Hitt’s usual 13-14 5,000-word chapters. The writing style is pure Hitt, however.
The tone reminded us of a famous book about the same era and problems, Revolution Road — the failure of the American Dream in the 1950s, the ruse that marriage leads to happiness, that mundane work trumps chasing your dream. All the characters in this dark novel are sour, depressed, lost and in pain for dreams never realized.
Fred is a regional grocery sales rep who hates the woman he’s married to, Rita. He has affairs. One woman, Sharon, that he just left is later murdered and the police finger him for it. Rita wants to run away with the man she is having an affair with, Norman, a penniless jazz musician. Rita takes out the $8,000 from the bank her husband was saving and talks Norman into running away with her, but he dupes her and takes the eight grand to run away with the woman he’s in love with, June, and June has her own agenda. An angry young man, pissed that the world never works in his favor, killed Sharon, because he sees her as a worthless slut. Two other women come into Fred’s sphere: Della, a sexy act singer in a hotel bar that gets duped by a man who claims he can take her to Hollywood and be on TV, and June, the widow of an old army friend of Fred’s…meanwhile, Rita finds a way to get him pinned for the murder and get back at Norman for deserting her, only to meet her own karmic end…
The back cover states: “One slut deserves another.” A bit misleading, or all the characters sluts? There’s only one unfaithful wife here.
Like all multi-character narratives, we never spend enough time with any one character to get to know them or care for them, or hate them, so the story relies on choices made by one that can affect all.
A bit different from Hitt’s usual type of books, this makes for a refreshing read of the dead pulp author.