This was the fifth book William Hamling published at the end of 1959, and the first of many titles that a very young Larry Block furnished for Hamling and his editor, Harlan Ellison.
This is also one of the more hard-to-find Shaws, at a reasonable price, with a but of a cult status among Antioch University alumni from the 1950s and 60s. Block went to Antioch, later opting out for a career in Manhattan as a hack pulp writer, selling his first novel, as Lesely Evans, to Fawcett Crest in 1958, then to Midwood and Nightstand in 1959-63.
A number of Block’s early books are, well, uneven–they are either good or bad. Mona was very good and The Adulterers and The Wife-Swappers very bad. Campus Tramp is not on part with Mona, $20 Lust, The Sex Shuffle, or Candy, but it isn’t bad, and there’s even some sociology involved in the text.
Campus Tramp tells the story of Linda Shepard, a nineteen-year-old young lady from Cleveland, Ohio, who is off to her freshman year at Clifton College, Block’s version of Antioch, a liberal arts institute with a loose structure in experimental (for the time) pedagogy.
Linda is a virgin and has been proud of keeping it that way, as a number of boys in high school tried to claim her cherry but she was firm in her desire to wait until marriage…until college that is. Once at Clifton, she decides that she wants a lover, that she wants to lose her virginity, and while a guy named Joe has his love eye on her, the man she really wants is a senior, Don Gibbs, a sort of bohemian rich boy who edits the college newspaper (as Block did at Antioch).
Many sociological studies have been conducted over the decade about how wild freshmen get in college, especially in the dorms: they are away from home, mommy and daddy, they have access to alcohol and drugs, they let loose. I remember when I was in the “older student” dorm floor way way b ack when, and the freshmen were all on the eighth and seventh floors, said floors in shambles every weekend, shattered bottles, beer cans, clothes everywhere…rooms where a drunk or high 18 year old was taking on anyone, and guys lining up for a turn…yeah, the good old days. Later, the young girls who did this would experience shame, and they’d leave the dorms or even try to kill themselves, or they’d wallow in booze and cocaine and sleep with anyone who passed by…
That’s what happens to Linda. She gets Don Gibbs, inserting herself into his life, and when she loses her virginity, and experiences lust, she can’t get enough. She an Don fuck whenever they can; she spends all her time with him, not going to classes, her grades slipping.
When Don breaks up with her over her ultra possessiveness, Linda sinks deep into debauchery, having sex with any boy or guy or man who wants her, a shabby replacement for Don; she thinks of suicide but getting drunk is better to dull the pain, and there are plenty of older students willing to give her the booze in exchange for a romp in the backseat.
Linda starts to get a reputation as the campus tramp, and guys ask her out only with sex on their minds. Linda doesn’t care what people think of her. Her roommate, Rachel, is quite concerned, and one drunken night, when Rachel gives Linda a massage, the two girls go at it. Linda is shocked by what she has done, and her roommate confesses that she’s been a lesbian since she was fourteen.
Then Linda realizes she is pregnant, and she has no idea who the father could be…just as she decides to stop drinking and tramping and get her grades back up, the school informs her that they want her to leave for a year or face explusion…and now she is pregnant…she isn’t getting a break anywhere.
The book doesn’t wrap up as expected — usually these stories, for moral standards, have the wanton floozie realize the errors of her sinful ways, and finds the boy who loves her…we thought it would be Joe, that seemed to be the set up, he confesses his love despite her reputation, but she just fucks him and drops him…
Instead, Linda returns to Don Gibbs and tells him she’s knocked up and needs help. He’s willing to help because, unknown to her, he broke it up because he was in love and was afraid of the emotion…
Creeping Hemlock Press recently reprinted Campus Tramp as a a trade paperback, with an intro by Ed Gorman and an afterword by Block; the afterword is worth the price of admission: Blocks talks about leaving high school and going to Antioch as a would-be young writer, sellingb his early novels, moving to New York, and being asked to leave Antioch in a way that Linda is asked to leave Clifton. He talks about the book’s cult status at Antioich, and how some students and faculty thought the book was his way of “getting back” at Antioch.
Clifton College appears in a number of Andrew Shaws, referred to in one Sheldon Lord, and is the setting of one of Donald Westlake’s softcores, as Edwin West.
Creeping Hemlock is set to reprint the Seeldon Lord, April North, which has many similarities to Campus Tramp.