Best remembered for his sensational bestselling novels of the 1930s, James M. Cain may well be one of the most important, yet still misunderstood, of American authors. Among other writers and for certain critics, his reputation and singularity are unquestioned, resting on an extraordinary force of style and view of the human condition that have influenced a host of modern authors. Cain’s unique voice — hard-edged, caustically ironic, and impeccably controlled — was in fact forged through an extensive journalistic training and remains best exemplified in the compressed power of his short fiction.
Here then, timed with a major revival of interest in Cain’s work, is the first book to collect the best of his shorter work — selected short stories and sketches together with one of his finest serials, the novella published at different times under the titles “Money and the Woman” and “The Embezzler.” As taut and brilliant in its way as Cain’s most famous serial, this ingenious example of Cain’s “love rack” fiction has been out of print for many years, but reads as immediately today as when first written more than three decades ago. Equally fascinating, especially when seen within Roy Hoopes’s tracings of the development of Cain’s work, are the entertaining sketches and dialogues Cain originally wrote for journalistic publication — beautiful models of efficiency and concision stamped with Cain’s characteristic irony. We are given ten of his best, out of hundreds he wrote for the and H. L. Mencken’s Together with nine of his finest short stories — including those three Cain classics, “Pastorale,” “The Baby in the Icebox,” and “Dead Man” — this volume comprises both an ideal introduction to the work of this remarkable American author and a mandatory book for all James M. Cain fans.
Four years after his sensational first novel, Mr. Cain appears with a new one which definitely places him among the best story-tellers in America.
The emphasis is hereby put upon the word , for that, above everything else, is what this book is. It is an account of the lives of two men and one woman and of their relations with each other, which begins in a moment of tenseness and passion and moves forward with amazing speed, in the clipped and biting prose that Cain has made his own, to still greater heights — to emotion so taut that it must break in violence.
The story is set in Mexico, Hollywood, and New York — a simple, primitive scene on the one hand, a brilliant, sophisticated one on the other. There are tenderness and beauty in the book, and also murder and vice. The arts of the film, the opera, and the bullfight are in it, and an incredible understanding of the strange nature of the human animal. But above all, a story is in it — a story full of fury and terror and love, which once begun must be finished and once read will be remembered.
It is the story of a farmer, and of the daughter who came back to him years after he had almost forgotten her, and of the wife who had deserted him. and of the man who had stolen his wife. It is, inevitably, swiftly paced, suffused with passion, knife-like in its descriptive power. Around the astonishing quadrangle of this talc swirl contrasting moods of brutality and tenderness with ever- increasing violence right up to the dramatic end.
It’s the story of Ben Grace, a small-time chiseler in the rackets – not crooked, not straight, just in between – who, full of grievances, makes the most of his inside information as Sol Caspar’s chauffeur to aid and abet the opposing party’s upcoming mayoral election campaign. His ally (and soon-to-be lover) in the enemy camp is a very good-looking girl named June Lyons, who is also very dedicated to justice.
It sounds predictable, but it Cain’s hands, it’s anything but. It may seem strange to say, but works of fiction are usually less complicated than the real world, as who would believe the twists and turns that real life can have? But when you think the story’s going one way, Cain heads it off in another. Or, perhaps, he lets it go off in another, on its own, as if he set the characters up, and then he let them find their own destiny, their own fate. Which, of course, they do.