She Got What She Wanted by Orrie Hitt (Beacon Books #101, 1954)
She Got What She Wanted was Hitt’s fourth novel (I’ll Call Every Monday, Love in the Arctic and Cabin Fever the first three) and, more significantly, the very first Beacon Book (although Universal Publishing had previous imprints, like Uni Books). Like Shabby Street (Beacon #104), it is 90,000 words, longer than your usual 50-60K word paperback of the era. Unlike Shabby Street, the extra words makes for unneeded padding and banter.
The novel opens the way a good number of Hitt tales do (Sheba, Carnival Girl, Ellie’s Shack, etc.), with a finance company collector coming by the house looking for money, or for things to take to satisfy an account. Della Banners, a buxom blonde 20 year old, has good-for-nothing parents who leach off her meager earnings, a mother who is lazy and a father who is a fast talker and owes a lot of people and companies money. The collector wants to take the car but Della owns the car and she is not a debtor. She is sick and tired of her home life — the back cover states “Della was white trash” and promises to be a sordid yarn about a girl from the wrong side of the streets who uses her body and sex to manipulate men to get ahead.
Well, right and wrong. Della does learn how to use her womanly charms to get ahead in life, but this is no sleaze novel, not in the genre sense and not like the books Hitt did in the 1960s. This is as close to a literary or morality novel as Hitt ever got…this is a work of actual literature, with a couple of snide remarks about boobs and some sex scenes tossed in to make it a classifiable sleaze book.
Like in his 1958 book, Sheba, Della quickly learns the art of sales for her lack of years and experience. While Sheba was about selling used cars, She Got What She Wanted centers around door-to-door sales of roofing shingles, a job Hitt actually had (and like his other books that give intricate details of insurance sales and food distribution and hotel management, Hitt made good use of personal experience).
Della leaves home and goes to another city, sells her car and looks for work. She forgets to sign her pink slip right and a man comes by her room to get her right signature, a man named Jack who is a smooth operator and roof shingles salesman. He tries to make some moves and she resits; he tells her he could hire her as a “canvasser,” someone who does feeling around for potential customers, and then Jack goes in later to close the deal. Jack says women are best used as canvassers, for their looks, of course.
Della proves to be good at it, and a month later she finds that Jack is not the smooth and confident salesman he made her believe — he has his moments, but at times he sinks into despair and drinks too much and vanishes and messes up sales. She soon realizes that she has her shit together better than him, and the manager makes her a closer, and later recommends the home office that she manage a new office in another city.
Now, she is barely 21, and they have never had a female manager before. She meets the boss, Roger, at a party, and he takes her back to his room, drunk. She encourages Roger to drink more whiskey, and she lets him paw her and make suggestions before he passes out.
Here is where Della gets shifty and uses her good looks to manipulate herself into a better job. She undresses and gets into bed with Roger. When he wakes up, Roger does not remember a thing and here is this naked female employee…she acts like he forced himself on her and she is shocked…and he is married…and he secures her the manager job as long as she “forgets” about his drunken fuck up…
So Della runs an office, and Jack is now her underling, and they do well. Like the narrator of Shabby Street, she becomes a hard-ass boss, firing people without a thought to their personal issues and need for work. And then she and Jack come up with a plan to swindle some side money from the company, by having their own little company supply materials for jobs; the swindle is a little complicated, like the case with Hitt’s wonderful novel Pushover.
Della is obsessed with money and the gaining of it, of buying things, of the material things in the world, typical of a person who comes from a poor childhood. Even Jack thinks she has become too superficial:
“You’re always pricing things,” he said. “No matter what it is.”
“And why not?” she demanded. “The price on anything, no matter what it is, is never right. It’s either too high or too low, depending on what you’re getting. You have to make up your own mind if a thing you want is worth the price you’ve got to give.” (p. 205)
Unlike 1960s Hitts, and Beacon titles, there is no romantic wrap up, no happy ending…we were expecting it, that perhaps Jack and Della would wed in bliss, but that doe snot happen — in fact, the ending is quite tragc, almost like a Russian novel, where Della’s obsession with monetary gain, and her treatment and manipulation of others, would make She Got What She Wanted to She Got What She Deserved…
We won’t spoil it for you, other than to say what happens to Della is just terrible — but did she deserve it? Perhaps.
On the Hitt Scale, a 9.5. This is a fine novel, sleaze paperback or literary. A good number of Hitt motifs or thematic set-ups are in this book (thankfully not nude photos) and foreshadow his pet obsessions, mainly how difficult it was for a woman not to have to resort to using her body and sexuality to get ahead in life…