What is Cain is good. His narrators are always people that just don't get it, whatever it is that defines the morality that you and I take for granted. In this case, the narrator is a teenaged girl. She's ringingly aware of her emerging womanhood, as is the creepy stepfather. And there's a "real" father in the background somewhere. Unseen and unknown, she builds an elaborate happy-family fantasy around him. (That fantasy is believable. I've seen it happen.) Then things fall apart. Family stresses reach the rupture point, and she runs. That "real" father doesn't live up the fantasy, of course, so Mandy looks elsewhere for the reward she wants. Alone, she looks in the wrong places, and becomes involved with a botched bank robbery, three murders, and a sweet-talking psychopath. That creates the noir setting that Cain handled so masterfully. But pieces just didn't fit. For one, James Cain never seemed to present the teenage girl's voice in a completely convincing way. For another, the story has a happy ending - so Cain was way out of his element. Lots of other details grated against each other, too. I didn't know until I finished the book that this was published posthumously, but I was pretty sure by the time I finished it. If he had been happy with the work, he would have published it himself back when it was originally written - probably the early 1960s, or near there. Taken as a finished work, I found this a disappointing addition to Cain's ouvre. Taken as a sketch or work in progress when he died, I found it more interesting. It shows an early stage of a story's development, leaving me wishing that he had finished it. //wiredweird
"[My father and I] would live on a desert isle that we'd swim to when our plane was wrecked at sea."
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 14 years ago
(3.5 stars) Published in 1985, eight years after James M. Cain's death, this novel is atypical of Cain's work. Using a sixteen-year-old girl, Amanda Vernick, as the main character and speaker, he focuses on the ways in which she is hurt by older men--abused by her stepfather and exploited by other men with whom she comes in contact. Developing sympathy for her in the course of the novel, Cain is far from the "hard-boiled" stylist one expects from his earlier work, and his dialogue, instead of being clipped and abrupt, reflects the thinking of an inexperienced teenager as she reflects on and tries to justify many of her actions. Mandy has had a hard life with a mother who has had two "husbands," the last of whom has been abusing Mandy sexually from the time she was thirteen, with her mother's knowledge. When she decides to leave home in search of her real father, she meets Rick, a 19-year-old boy, on the bus, and he suggests that they share the cost of a room. Later a gang of thieves makes their acquaintance and decides to use them in the grand heist of a Baltimore bank, with Mandy driving the getaway car. Events become more complicated when the holdup goes awry and people are killed. Mandy's attempt to reclaim her life, become a "good girl," and live safely constitute the main action of the book. Throughout the novel, Mandy is looking for her "enchanted isle," a place where she can feel safe, protected, and most of all, loved. The novel focuses as much on her character as it does on the action, unlike other Cain novels, and instead of being "noir" in style, it verges on the sentimental and works toward a happy ending. Though the narrative moves quickly and has its bloody moments, the reader's attention is drawn primarily to the effects of the action on Mandy, not on the excitement of plot for its own sake. A far cry from Double Indemnity and many of the novels Cain wrote in the 1940s, this is Cain at his most melodramatic. n Mary Whipple
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