As Bad as They Come (Midwood #23, 1959)

Like other 1959 Hitt Midwoods Hired Lover and Affair with Lucy, this is a terse first-person tale with a hardboiled edge, about a heel salesman who womanizes his way until all hell breaks loose.

Art is lead sales guy at a mail order catalog firm; he’s indeed as bad as they come just as another Hitt anti-hero was Rotten to the Core. He works in Manhattan, but commutes via train to Middletown, outside Port Jervis, an hour and a half ride, so he often has an excuse to stay overnight in the city if he “misses” the train from staying late at the ofice, when in fact he’s gotten a room or is staying with another woman. His wife seems to trust him — she thinks he makes $200 a week but he actually makes $350 — that $150 is needed for rooms, dinners, drinks, gifts, or even women he pays for sex.  He wonders

why couldn’t I be happy with the wife I had and stop chasing other women?  For the first few months of our marriage — we had been living in New York then — I had tried it and almost made it work. I had only been an assistant in the office then, making seventy a week, and every pay day I handed my envelope over to her. Then I had been assigned to do some work with a married girl and we had gotten friendly […] All the promises I had made myself about being faithful to my wife had fled under the driving pressure of her lips.  (p. 12)

At least he has a conscience about it, so maybe he isn’t all that bad.  Art is not insatiable about  women as much as he’s been sedued by the act of seduction itself — to conquer, acquire, because it makes him feel on top of the world.  He’s also succumbed to the desire of money.

I ought to be satisfied. I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted more. I wanted the whol damn business and then I would be set. Once I had the business in my hands I could have all that I wanted and all the dames I could take care of.

Hell, I’d have everything. (pp. 12-13)

He’s also in debt up to his ears, often missing payments on the car his wife uses. His attitude: “The finance company could wait. They had more money than I did” (p. 32).

Then a monkey wrench is tossed into his plans — one of his lovers at the office, Linda, informs him that she’s pregnant, the baby is his, she plans to have the baby, and she wants him to divorce his wife and marry her, the proper thing to do…

His wife, Alice, has been trying to have a baby, but can’t, so now he knows the problem isn’t with him.  He’s against a baby right now but Alice tells him:

“I want one. Every girl does. Every girl who’s married, I mean.  You aren’t a whole woman unless you have a baby.” (p 36)

It all comes down to money for him:

I didn’t want a kid any more than I wanted four eyes. A kid would bring about new problems and demand some of my attention. The only thing I would get would be a tax reduction and the rest I would have to pay for. (p. 39)

Then there is her 19-year-old, 40-inch bust sister, Sandy, who is visiting and staying with them…Art has a yen for her too. His own sister-in-law?  He plots ways he can “make” her.

Would she resist? Probably. I had t play this slow and carefully and not make a mistake. If I had the proper moves at the proper time I felt sure I would score. (p. 35)

This guy is indeed quite the heel, the cad, the pussy-hound, but we don’t hate him too much, like the narrator of Shabby Street, who had zero redeeming qualities.  He even muses:

One girl I had been with one night — I hadn’t pay her — had said I was a heel. Probably she had been right. (p.37)

Soon our heel becomes aware of one of Hitt’s pet themes — the nude photo racket. The owner of the mail order biz, Old Horace, wants to get into the risque female photo racket, selling them as “artists aids” (giving double meaning to the narrator’s name) for those who cannot afford real live models.  They will be skimming the indecency laws of the U.S. post office, but believe the risks do not outweigh the potential profit.

Art talks Sandy into modeling; he also talks Jean Carter, a young woman he meets on the commuter train almost every night into it (he also beds her down).  And he talks Linda into it, before she starts showing the pregnancy…

This one is obsessed with “being in the family way” — Linda is knocked up, Art’s wife wants a baby (and she’s cheating on him too), his other lovers get worried when he is careless…

Christ, I was getting so many women at once that I didn’t know which way to turn. Linda claimed she was pregnant and I had been careless with Sandy. It wasn’t good. If I kept this up I would have more kids than I could count. (p. 92)

Don’t know if condoms were a taboo subject in 1959, but when Art puts one on, he never says outright; Hitt uses clues like “I got it out of my pocket” or “I took care of things down there.”  He’s done the same in other books.

All in all, a well-written novel, despite some familiar territory — all his Midwoods seem to be tightly composed, probably because he had a good editor in 1959-60 (Elaine Williams/aka Sloane Britain).

On the Hitt scale, a 9.

As Bad as They Come was reprinted in 1962 as Mail Order Sex (Midwood #150), with a cheesy photo model cover…

One Response to “As Bad as They Come (Midwood #23, 1959)”

  1. […] As Bad As They Come by Orrie Hitt Reviewed here. […]

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