What’s interesting is that the scene is simultaneously a fair and a false indicator of the story that follows. Indeed, the plot involves a brawny bus driver, Jim Cassidy, who can’t seem to escape the lure of his fleshy wife, Mildred, despite the fact that their relationship has curdled to the point of hateful and abusive rage. But Jim and Mildred are far away from any living space with curtains, a cushioned settee, and a bright vase of flowers. Instead, the author traps his characters inside a seedy apartment and a broken-down saloon.
These people are not living inside a liquor ad; Jim, Mildred, and almost every other character in Cassidy’s Girl is a lost and incapacitated alcoholic. These are people who drink quarts of rye just to push through the day, and their home is really Lundy’s Tavern, where they can continue drinking in the cracked-plaster private rooms upstairs when the 2 am liquor curfew threatens their lifestyle. And Jim is constantly picking fights and under attack: in an early chapter, he loses three teeth in a bar fight, a detail you also don’t see on the alluring book cover.
Cassidy’s Girl delivers two intense story turns in its compact narrative. The first, a gruesome event that makes Jim once again guilty of the deaths of innocent people, aligns with the book’s grim, fatalistic tone. (Years earlier, Cassidy had been an airline pilot who everyone blamed for a deadly runway crash, even though it was due to a co-pilot’s suicidal breakdown. This started his self-loathing downward spiral.) The second turn – essentially the book’s final chapter – goes against the noir mythos and rather unconvincingly presents a complete turn in Mildred’s personality as she becomes savior to the man she has spent the book trying to destroy.
It is only Chapter Fifteen that feels like a cop-out, a rushed resolution that doesn’t square with the tough, trapped reality of the rest of the novel. I would really like to know whether Goodis was acting from an editor’s notes, some outsider who wanted him to deliver a more upbeat ending with an eye on copy sales. The author has spent so much time building the reality and psychology of characters who are determined to stay numb at the bottom, it is truly hard to believe, for example, that they would all pour onto the floor the contents of a full whisky bottle just on someone’s liberating command, as happens here.
Much more of an unvarnished character study than a typical thrills-and-action pulp drama, Cassidy’s Girl is well worth reading, both for Goodis’ blunt noir poetry and its unflinching depiction of people trapped between bottle and bottom. Stark House Press reprinted this story along with Nightfall and Night Squad in a 2018 anthology.