Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Heart For Business (1958)

A Heart for Business
Adele De Leeuw
1958, The Macmillan Company

She sighed. He had always ordered her around, and for the most part she hadn't minded. But Greg's opinion of her capabilities didn't jibe with her own. That was because he had known her too long, she thought. Just the way he had read down that list of questions... well, it was true she couldn't operate power tools or keep books or do art work.  But that didn't mean she couldn't do anything.

Mary-Ellen Lathrop has a boy next door with a long memory for every single time she failed to show any hard economic sense.  Greg, pleasant but unrelenting, thinks she's being ridiculous to sign up for Junior Achievement, the high school program that guides students through the rigors of setting up and running a small business.

"Get wise to yourself.  You've got lots of things but a head for business - no."

Greg, frankly, is a dick.  Although he has a point.  Despite her genuine desire to show her talent for business, Mary-Ellen (known as Mel) has a tendency to look more at the promised social benefits of the enterprise.  Such as the girl/boy ratio.  Mel befriends the group's Mr. Darcy, a brooding and cynical anti-capitalist and music-loving pianist named Alex Gunther.

Alex seemed disinclined to go on. He stood, aloof and composed, while the silence built up. Mel noticed for the first time that his plaid jacket was worn thin at the elbows, and his trousers had the shine of much wear.

She's besotted, even more so when she discovers his only reason for joining J.A. is to find out how the capitalist machine works from inside.  Son of a skilled machinist who'd been crippled on the job, Alex lived through his family losing everything when his father's employer refused to pay the benefits they owed him.  Now he's uncontrollably bitter, lashing out even at the pretty girl who invites him to use her family's piano (because of course they have one, just as her parents of course love classical music):

He said, in a hard voice, "People like you - " he flung his long arm around the room, encompassing the deep chairs, the lamps, the Oriental rug, the silk draperies, the pictures - "what do you know about people like us? Or care? You're the kind who own the factories that do us out of our rights."

So Mel has an uphill battle with that one.  Meanwhile, her dependable if slightly abusive Greg is being reeled in by a predatory newcomer.  Diane, a redhead with a dramatic streak of her own, hits the J.A. group hard, and Greg forgets Mel exists.

The romances weren't particularly interesting, and the Junior Achivement aspect was dull (see below for why this may be my own little issue) but there is a Mr. Darcy, and he is furious at Big Business, so that's nice. Mel's dad may possibly help him see that all owners aren't bad guys, and he may completely come around and probably ends up being a manager somewhere, but we had a moment, Alex.

Full disclosure: at one point as a child, I did Junior Achievement.  Where Mel's was run by 2 adults, local businessmen, mine was run by 2 nitwit college kids and correspondingly poorly executed.

Acorn Books, 1963

Junior Achivement