Monday, January 18, 2010

The Butterfly by James M. Cain

The Butterfly by James M. Cain
Signet 720, Copyright 1946

When I pick up one of Cain's novels, I expect a devious pull into a deceitful murder plot set in Southern California. But in this one we are taken to a coal mining region of West Virginia for a seductive backwoods noir tale that has plenty of family scheming, temptation, and hatred.

"He was eating beans out of a can with his knife, and I let him finish them up before I raised my gun. I drew my bead right on the butterfly. He doubled up when I pulled the trigger, and held on to his stomach, and kicked like a cat trying to shake papers off it's feet, and drew his breath in and out fast like a dog in the summer time, except instead of heat that made him do that, it was pain. That suit me fine. I stepped out, picked up his rifle from where he had set it down to eat, and sat down to watch him twitch."

After Jess Tyler's two-timing wife split on him 18 years ago, he seemed content just farming his land near the abandoned coal mines. That all changes when his 19 year old daughter Kady shows up one day and decides to stay for a spell. Well before you know it, both feel a little more passion between them than is usual between a father and daughter. But Jess is a Church-going-man and fights the temptation, even as Kady spews seduction over him. Things happen fast in this novel, Jess finds out that Kady has a illegitimate baby boy and it has been kidnapped by her stepfather. The boy gets returned as more members of Jess Tyler's family get involved. Kady plans to marry the baby boy's real father, but that goes sour. Then there is suspicion that the stepfather is the real father of Kady's boy. With incestuous lust still tempting Jess, he heads out to settle the score between him and the man who took away his wife years ago. But just about then, Jess learns something and that brings his relationship with Kady down a road towards sin and shame.

A swift story that is packaged with suspense, morality, and the forbidden topic of incest. Oh, and a murder along the way. Cain's writing (as always) is terrific in this novel. The characters burst from the pages, the plot has plenty of twists and offers a stark portrayal of hatred, lust, and even the passion of love. There is an intensity in this story and it builds and builds, then ends masterfully as Jess is writing down the tale of what happens.

It's safe to say, I never read anything that I didn't fully enjoy by James M. Cain. It's been a while since I read a backwoods noir novel and adding Cain as the author... this one is a "can't miss!"


David Cranmer said...

I haven't read THE BUTTERFLY but I'm betting I would learn something about the art of writing. Cain was masterful.

And a backwoods noir tale definitely sounds unique.

Anonymous said...

I have the book on my shelf. It's a nasty piece of redneck work, shocking as only Cain can be. Long live James M. Cain. Thanks for this.

Frank Loose said...

This book is not as "classic" as his two most famous books - Postman and Double Indemnity, but i think it is one of his best. It is one i will definitely read again. At the heart is a taboo subject --- can you imagine how it must of come across back in its day? --- and expertly handled by Cain. Like you, i have not read a Cain book that I didn't thoroughly enjoy.
Another really good one: Love's Lovely Counterfeit.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back. We've missed you.

Anonymous said...

Cain never fails to leave me with my jaws hanging open. One of his best for sure.

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