Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Cassidy's Girl Turns Out to Be Big Trouble in This Pulp Novel by David Goodis

Cassidy's Girl was first published in 1951, and was written by David Goodis, a prolific author of pulp paperback originals. Goodis is perhaps best known for his novel, Dark Passage, which was later turned into a film starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Near the end of his life (Goodis died when he was only forty-nine), he would insist that the concept for the television series, "The Fugitive," had been stolen from Dark Passage.

Goodis specialized in writing about characters that were down on their luck and had basically been kicked to the curb by polite, mainstream society, and Cassidy's Girl is filled with such people. At the center of the novel is Cassidy, who was once a respected, high-flying airline captain, living the good life. But then a passenger plane he was piloting crashed on takeoff and a number of people were killed. 

Although Cassidy was not at fault, he was blamed for the crash. As a consequence, he lost his job and his life began the downward spiral that ultimately finds him working as a bus driver in Philadelphia. He lives in a rundown apartment on the waterfront in the seediest part of town with his wife, Mildred. Theirs is a very rough, dysfunctional relationship with lots of drunken physical abuse on both sides. Their fights most often end in bouts of very rough, wild sex to which both Cassidy and Mildred seem addicted, but no wonder, given that "Mildred was a wild animal, a living chunk of dynamite that exploded periodically and caused Cassidy to explode, and these rooms were more of a battleground than a home."

Cassidy and Mildred have a small circle of friends, all of whom are serious alcoholics. These people spend virtually all of their waking hours at a dive bar called Lundy's where they drink themselves into oblivion, and as the book opens the reader can only wonder where Goodis is going to take these characters.

Not very far, it turns out, which is really too bad. I loved the first half of this book, which I thought had a great set up for the kind of really dark, nasty, sexy plot that leads people to read pulp novels in the first place. But sadly, there's no payoff of any consequence. These characters drink and smoke and fight and have sex and then drink some more. Cassidy will become disenchanted with Mildred and infatuated with another woman. Bad luck will continued to be his constant companion, and his life will continue to disintegrate even further. Meanwhile, the other minor characters around him will continue to drink themselves blind and offer very bad advice.

This really isn't a crime novel, since no crime of any consequence actually occurs. Rather it turns out to be something of a sociological study of a group of people that you'd never want to hang out with. The plot, such as it is, becomes increasingly unbelievable as the book progresses, until it reaches a climax which will simply leave a lot of readers shaking their heads in frustration.

I think there was a lot of unrealized potential in this story and, as I said, there were parts of it that I really enjoyed. But in the end, the book failed to live up to the promise of the opening pages and by the time it was over, I'm sorry to say that I no longer wanted to spend any additional time with either Cassidy or his girl.


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