THE BABY IN THE ICEBOX
And Other Short Fiction
Collected here are the dialogues which, first published in Mencken's American Mercury, brought young Cain--then an editorial writer for Walter Lippmann at the New York World--his first taste of literary acclaim in the late Twenties. Strongest of these is The Hero, in which town commissioners (prime examples of the booboisie) discuss a pension for the family of a fireman who was killed while shooting water at a rival company of responding firefighters. Cain's command of Eastern Shore dialect is at its most concentrated and satiric here. And the same dialect also carries the best of the more formal short stories: Pastorale--about an incredibly grisly and botched murder and its perpetrators. . . who, hard as they try, can't keep the secret crime to themselves. That sin is impossible to hide is, of course, a basic Cain theme; and there's also a novella, first published in serial-form, which--with strong similarities to Double indemnity (sex, embezzlement, stupidity)--inflates under the same thematic pressure. But, except for the above-mentioned pieces, the work here is very minor Cain, often succumbing to a very treacly situation: the desperate man-on-the-run meets the innocent girl. (Sweet-and-sour is the trickiest of flavors, and Cain was mostly a flop at it.) A few early gems of raw, ugly Cain, then, in a generally undistinguished retrospective.