The Color of Lust (Domino Books, 1964)
Ol’ Orrie takes on racism, racial tension, the politics of 1960s Civil Rights struggles, unions, bigotry and hate in this one, perhaps one of his most serious novels I’ve read yet — of racial issues and social/blue collar worker politics packaged as a sex book with a half naked woman on the front and back covers.
As Hank Hill and his drinking pals go, “Yeyup.”
Sammy Cain is the protagonist, the hero,
age twenty-six, big, powerful, handsome — and neither white nor Negro. This, he had decided, was the trouble — he was part of each [...] he had accepted what he was and learned to live with it. (p. 6)
Both his parents are black, but somewhere in the past — during the Civil War times he figured — white blood had gotten into the gene pool, and that gene was dominant in him. Those who don’t know, he passes off as white, but others can look closer at his hair, his facial features — he’s from African-American lineage.
To many of his co-workers, he’s a white nigger. He deals with a lot of racist attitudes at the trucking company he drives for — mainly because there are no black drivers, the black workers mainly load and do menial labor.
Some want to use Sammy’s white skin to their advantage — the owner of the company, who thinks he can work as management, more close to the common worker; a black union guy, who wants to use Sammy to get black truck drivers the right to drive the highways and at better pay. Sammy wants nothing to do with either, he’s happy to just drive and sleep in his room on days off; to drink beer and take life easy. But he’s forced into situations as the union guy hounds him and a bigoted mechanic messes with his truck and tries to kill him in a fluke accident, because the mechanic — a fat white tiras slob named Lew Chambers — is convinced Sammy is after his daughter.
He’s not, but she goes after him, and they start sleeping together, which can only lead to a world of trouble in 1964 time.
Just when I thought there’d only be one woman in Sammy’s life, different for a Hitt hero, Sammy sleeps with two more who complicate his existence:
Florence, a waitress who rents a room in the same boarding house he stays at;
Nora, who runs the business side of the trucking company for her sick father.
All women are white and they all comment on the sins of interracial sex — or the sins that others will see it as.
But Flo just wants money from him so she can skip work and lay around naked all day and Nora has an ulterior motive to set Sammy up as a patsy for an embezzlement rap.
Seems everyone wants to screw poor Sammy over, since he’s black deep in the blood and he doesn’t count in the end — even the union man, supposedly looking out for black workers, who has ulterior motives of his own.
This is a fine little novel, one of those Hitt could have probably sold to a mainstream hardcover house. One interesting aspect is that now and then Sammy picks up the newspaper and Hitt adds in political and social asides on the race war in the U.S., the nuclear scare of Russia, the assassination of politicians — and other major concerns and issues of the early 1960s.
Ripe for a reprint.
On the Hitt Scale, a 9.