The Cheat (Beacon, 1957; Softcover, 1968)

I love this cover — it’s a photo cover, which I tend to not like for vintage paperbacks, but this one is so fitting: the guy looks like the cad heel that the narrator, Ricky Burke, is; and the blonde could be any number of bad women in the story.

Most of the time, you can sympathize for a Hitt heel — especially when he knows he’s a heel, has a conscious, or tries to right his wrongs.  Ricky is hard to feel for, because he’s not just a heel, he’s an asshole who only cares about the accumulation of money and pussy.

He’s a pots and pans salesman; part of the job is giving dinner parties in homes, so women can see how well his product does in the kitchen. This gives him access to a lot of needy women, married or not.

He’s married to Cindy but it’s a sexless marriage and all he cares about is the $10,000 in the bank that her father left her, and the interest it is garnering.  He has plans for that money being his.

He also has a girlfriend, Sharon, who worked part time for him, and works in a diner. She’s from “the Ridge,” the slum part of the town.  She’s only interested in how much money she can squeeze out of Ricky — she gets kicked out of the house by her parents and gets a large $125/month apartment instead of the $8/week room Ricky wanted her to.  She puts furniture, a TV, and clothes on credit for Ricky to buy.  He can’t afford this.  She has bee costing him too much money as it is; the book opens with:

I told my wife that I had to borrow $500 from the bank to fix the car. But I didn’t need it for the car. The car was all right. I needed the money for a pair of long legs and a pretty face that was crazy for new clothes. (p. 7)

Well, at least for all the using he does toward his wife, he gets equally used by a wanton vixen.  It seems fair.

Then he meets Janice at a dinner party; she’s a widow who owns a large house by a lake — in fact she owns the lake.  She has an idea of turni g her seven rooms into a bed and breakfast resort but has no money to invest in the conversation.

Ricky is taken by her.  She’s enough to make him drop Sharon and want to divorce Cindy.  But as we know in the Hitt novels, this type of woman is a black widow, and she plays Ricky.

But he deserves it.  We usually feel bad for the Hitt heel for being a sucker, but this time, Ricky deserves getting taken.

“You were easy,” she said at last. “Real easy. You think you’re a real woman killer and any girl could have gotten you the way I did. The trouble with you is you don’t think of the girl, you think only of yourself.  Money, for you, buys you everything.”

“That makes us twins.”

“I took from you and you took from your wife. Is there such a big difference?…This old world has a price for everything you do and everything you get., and when you’re smart you collect. Sometimes you hurt people and sometimes you don’t. If you do, it’s too bad. ( pp. 179-80)

As always, Hitt gives us a detailed view of the life of a salesman.  Hitt must have sold pots and pans at some point, he knows so much about it, just as detailed as his insurance agent books, the ones about hotel workers and door-to-door salesmen and bartenders.

I initially read the 1968 Softcover Library edition, called Cheat, since my 1957 Beacon was falling apart.  As with the Softcover edition of Ladies’ Man, reviewed here, there were some tossed in explicit sex scenes that were not in Hitt’s voice and felt out of place with the whole text.  By 1968, because of certain landmark court cases, and after the arrests and Superior Court cases of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin (when they got arrested for saying “fuck” in a public venue), explict words and scenes were legally okay, and the publishers felt that they would have better flip-appeal and sell more.

The added scenes come in at the end of various chaptrs where Ricky gets it on with one woman or another.  For instance, in the 1958 edition, chaoter two end like so:

Her lips were moving, seeking, and petty soon my arms were around her, lifting her off the floor, returning her kiss as though she was the only woman in the world. (p. 27)

The 1968 edition end chapter two like this:

Her lips were moving, seeking, and petty soon my arms were around her, lifting her off the floor, returning her kiss as though she was the only woman in the world.

Then I lowered her to the bed. Now, let me explain something. Some men go for tits, some go for legs or bottoms.  Well, I dig all of it. What send me most is the sight and smell of feminine hair around the crtch. And believe me, Sharon had quite a nest there — soft, glossy, not too thick. My shaft was already rearing of course. But it became rigid enough to ram through concrete as I stroked that cute little mat of hers… (p. 27)

The voice is wrong, and using terms like “dig,” “shaft” and “nest” do n ot fit the 50s, if we are to take the setting to still be in the 50s.

The additions are interesting from a cultural view of the changing nature of sexual literature, but sentences like “My rod felt elephant sized and for minutes on end I was shoving it into this blonde” (p. 43) only cheapens and takes away from Hitt’s work; it doesn’t make the stry more erotic, sensual, or sexy — if anything, it makes it silly and dirty, because the voice doesn’t match, and the women act out character.


One Response to “The Cheat (Beacon, 1957; Softcover, 1968)”

  1. […] The Cheat by Orrie Hitt Reviewed here. […]

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