Cassidy’s Girl- David Goodis

Lundy’s Place, a port for rudderless boats.

Cassidy's Girl3

If ‘Noir Fiction’ is defined as a sub genre of the hardboiled with an “…emphasis on sexual relationships and the use of sex to advance the plot and the self-destructive qualities of the lead characters.” Then Goodis wrote that definition in ‘Cassidy’s Girl’. 

In deed, practically every character in this minor master piece is self-destructive and bent on the failure of the very idea of redemption for Jim Cassidy.Cassidy's Girl2

Jim Cassidy, the high school football star and All Pacific-Coast Conference Guard at the University of Oregon whose brilliant achievements in the halls of learning and on the grid iron left him third highest man in his class. Jim Cassidy, who piloted B-24’s in WWII through 80 missions and came home a war hero  to pilot commercial airliners. Capt. J. Cassidy whose steadiness led them to promote him to the transatlantic run was riding on top of the world. Wearing $125 suits and being invited to all the best parties where they served the best champagne and several of the more elegant post-debutants were wishing he’d turn his eye their way.  Then fate steps in and the big plane, on take off suddenly nosed over only to crash in the marshes at La Guardia leaving only eleven survivors out of seventy-eight passengers and crew. The copilot had suffered an emotional collapse,Cassidy says, but the review board does not believe him noting that Capt. Jim Cassidy had attended a champagne party the night before. The authorities label him a liar and a drunk. The families of the dead demand he be punished. The news papers splash his picture all over the papers, and blame him for the worst commercial air disaster of all time. It’s bad enough in New York, but even when he returns to his small Oregon home town, he is ostracized.

Cassidy's Girl

  Thus begins the downhill process and Cassidy begins to drink in earnest. No matter where he goes, they have seen his picture splashed across the nations new papers and they want him out. And they even attempt to throw him out bodily, but Cassidy is a big, strong man and fights them and ends up in jail for a week. He retreats from small town Oregon and lands in Nevada with his ten thousand dollars life savings from his years with the air lines only to see it fly away faster than his steady reputation, at the craps tables. Soon Cassidy is doing ten days for fighting and vagrancy and sixty days for assault and battery and putting men, and himself in the hospital as he drifts across the country. Cassidy's Girl art

He lands in Philadelphia, where so many of Goodis’ works always land. Cassidy is now piloting a bus for a three-bus company and making the run to Easton three times a day. He does his drinking at Lundy’s Place, a water front dive filled with “rudderless boats.” A place of dirty floors, cracked walls and disorganized human beings. But the shots of rye are cheap and one day, after his third drink he spies a bright purple dress wrapped around a woman with a body out of a Wagnerian Opera. Mildred. Mildred with bulges in all the right places. Mildred filled with violent sex. Mildred who can fight like a man and drink like ten. Mildred who would rather cheat on him than make him dinner. After nine or ten drinks they are married. For four years they do battle, physically and emotionally and sexually,  Cassidy’s only link to sanity is piloting that bus, maintaining that vestige of his control over his life and his value as a man.

Cassidy's

Cassidy is doomed, irretrievably broken, life has killed him but forgotten to kick the dirt over the top until one night, in Lundy’s, he has a fight with Mildred and her latest lover. In the aftermath he decides he can save his life, he can climb out of the hole that life has dug him. And save the life of young Doris who has her own tragic story. A farmers wife who fell asleep smoking one night and burned her husband and children to death. Doris is in Lundy’s to ‘drink herself to death’ as punishment for her failure and Cassidy sees her as someone damaged as much as himself. He decides to never return to Mildred and that maybe, just maybe by saving Doris he can save himself. But Mildred has other plans.

When it seems that Mildred might let him part from her civilly he discovers that she has thrown all his clothes in the river . While he marches to Lundy’s bent on violence for Mildred and her lover and anyone else that would stand in the way of his redemption,  he encounters three thugs paid to do him an injury, but Cassidy is not so easily way-laid. And so begins the struggle for Cassidy to save the frail Doris and himself. But, naturally life stands in his way. GoodisHis final downfall is engineered by Mildred’s would be lover who causes Cassidy’s bus to crash and kill everyone on board except Cassidy and the lover. Cassidy is soon condemned by the authorities when his past is rediscovered. And even when he manages to escape from police custody and dreams of escaping with Doris as a stow away on a ship bound for South Africa. When he dares to plot a new life with Doris in a far away land where they will eat in decent restaurants and sip sherry after dinner and where there will be no need for ‘that other kind of drinking’, life and his doomed friends plot to hold him back and keep him in the gutter where he belongs.

When Cassidy’s Girl was first released in paper back it sold a million copies and established David Goodis as a successor to Hammett and Chandler in the second generation of hardboiled writers that would eventually be known as the paperback writers. The whole story and all the characters are a metaphor for everything uncontrollable in life that can drag a man down. Even the twisted,  Goodis, happy ending is no happiness at all but a validation of the dirty failure waiting for us all.

David Goodis was a prolific writer who sometimes turned out 10,000 words a day. Born to a respectable Jewish family in Philadelphia, and 1938 graduate of Temple University, he published his first novel Retreat from Oblivion in 1939. After the publication he moved to New York City where he wrote for the pulps. During the 1940s, Goodis scripted for radio adventure serials, including Hop Harrigan, House of Mystery, and Superman. Novels he wrote during the early 1940s were rejected by publishers, but in 1942 he spent some time in Hollywood as one of the screenwriters on Universal’s Destination Unknown. His next novel wouldn’t come until 1946 when  Dark Passage was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, published by Julian Messner and filmed for Warner Bros. with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall heading the cast. Goodis Boogie & Bacall  He worked in Hollywood, writing screenplays and adaptations with varying degrees of success until 1950 when he returned to Philadelphia where he lived with his parents and his schizophrenic brother Herbert. At night, he prowled the underside of Philadelphia, hanging out in nightclubs and seedy bars, a milieu he depicted in his fiction. He died in January 1967 a week after suffering a beating  in a robbery attempt. Cause of death was listed as "cerebral vascular accident," meaning a stroke .  Cassidy’s Girl is a lost master piece in what would be called the ‘Noir Fiction’ genre and a journey into dirty world.

The Dirty Lowdown

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2 Comments

Filed under Crime Reports-Book Reviews, Reviewing The Classics

2 responses to “Cassidy’s Girl- David Goodis

  1. Great review, Robert. Looks like we see eye to eye on Goodis.

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