When you open a David Goodis novel, you can be pretty sure of two things: it’s probably going to be set in Philadelphia and it’s definitely going to be populated by characters whose lives have no significance, often not even to themselves. And that’s exactly what you get when you open Cassidy’s Girl, a 1951 effort by the master storyteller of doomed human beings.
I say doomed because even in this book, which has Goodis’ twisted version of a happy ending, the characters are all lost souls, thrown out with the bathwater into the filthy streets of the Philadelphia waterfront.
Jim Cassidy drives a bus from Philadelphia to Easton three times every day, back and forth, back and forth, because that’s the only work he can get. As a ruined former airline pilot, he’s well into his downward spiral, and his monotonous job only sets him up for his evening activities. He hangs around a slimy waterfront bar where all the hard case drinkers go, he gets in fist fights, and he’s completely under the spell of his wife Mildred, a breast-shaking, hip-swaying drunken nag who would rather cheat on him than make him dinner.
Well, one night while in an alcoholic stupor in his favorite dive, he spots Doris, a twentysomething girl who is, as she puts it, drinking herself to death, and she looks it. Sallow-complected and vacant-eyed, she makes love to the bottle every day and every night. Cassidy falls for her, more out of genuine caring than lust, and he eventually moves in with her. As he falls more and more in what passes for love in a Goodis novel, he tries his very best to get her to quit drinking. In one wild fantasy, he even envisions a proper, straightened-out life for the two of them, dining in fine restaurants and sipping an after-dinner sherry. “There would be no need for the other kind of drinking,” he thinks to himself.
Mildred, however, has different ideas, and Cassidy’s problems start multiplying.
This is why Goodis was such a great writer. He can take the very lowest players on society’s scale and make you care about them. Even when you know they have absolutely no shot, which is usually the case, you still care.Cassidy’s Girl reads like Goodis’ love letter to these people, and for that matter to all the losers who ever appeared in his novels. Anyone who appreciates great writing should make a point of locating a copy.