Thursday, August 28, 2008

Book Review: David Goodis, Cassidy's Girl (1951)

David Goodis continues to disappoint me. Cassidy's Girl is the best of the three Goodis novels I have read this year. Indeed, it could have been the noir masterpiece that it strives to be (as could have The Moon in the Gutter), but in my reading Goodis simply does not have the writerly chops to pull it off.

Of course, one should not expect polished prose from any writer of paperback originals--writers like Goodis cranked out novels and stories as fast as they could roll blank sheets into their typewriters, and readers should accept that their writing will not always be deathless. But Goodis is less deathless than most, and the problems with his sometimes fumbling prose are brought into sharp relief by the modesty of his plots. To his credit, Goodis strives to build his books around nuanced characters, but to do this successfully requires a precision that he cannot muster. In
Cassidy's Girl, he is more or less in control of his material until the final chapter, and then the wheels fly off. His halting attempts to describe moments of epiphanic discovery result in such nightmarish sentences as this:

The next thing in his mind was the start of another discovery, but before he could concentrate on it, his attention was drawn to Haney Kenrick.
Egad. And I would argue that the novel's plotting collapses in its final chapter as well, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I will keep that rant to myself.

In the end, Goodis' failures might be seen as the result of unusually high ambition in an author of noir PBOs. Few authors of paperback originals attempted to portray their characters with the same emotional depth. By comparison, Jim Thompson is also not much of a prose stylist, but the wild depravity of his plots hardly gives readers a chance to notice. Goodis, however, in attempting more subtle effects, leaves his writing too naked for observation. Grade: C+

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