Bedeviled by Raymond Mason. Hillman (1960), 192 pp.
Ex-Marine Jax Bradley works hard and plays by the rules. In his time at an Oakland department store, he’s risen to head buyer of men’s clothing. He’s confident that his job performance will lead to promotions in the future. His love life is less settled. Jax looks forward to marrying Judy, his fiancée, and living in the suburbs. She, however, refuses to set a marriage date and won’t consummate their sexual relationship in the meantime. When Jax attends a party given by steel tycoon John Benton, he’s aware but unconcerned that he doesn’t fit in with the rich folks. He’s especially unimpressed with the coddled twenty-somethings -- with one exception. She’s irritatingly flirtatious Myra Conover, apparently the boyfriend of Roy West, one of Jax’s former customers and a sometime drinking buddy. Not long afterward a blow-up with Judy and advances by Myra force Jax to rethink his plans for middle-class happiness.
The book takes a plausible look at the problems a man around thirty might face in acquiring an appropriate place for himself in late 1950s America. Jax’s spot in the social order receives special attention. Unlike his parents and married sister, he’s moved out of the working class. Unlike his teacher friends, he has a way to climb further. But unlike the people he meets at the party -- and later joins -- he’s alienated from upper-class morals and behavior. The author may be suggesting that if Jax had earned his way to the top he would have come to accept and perhaps emulate the actions of those already there. Instead, he seems to rely on his combat experience when events get out of control. Jax’s character needs further exploration for his reaction to be convincing, which is exactly what the author does not provide. (Mason had the same problem in Love after Five.) What Jax learns from his journey up the social ladder remains murky. So the book’s ironic ending may leave readers puzzled.