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FICTION : CAREER IN C MAJOR AND OTHER FICTION by James M. Cain, edited by Roy Hoopes (McGraw-Hill: $17.95).

June 22, 1986|Charles Champlin

Exhuming a major author's minor literary remains is not always a kindly act, although it may provide proof that the author worked hard at perfecting his craft. Editor (and Cain biographer) Roy Hoopes' point in this collection is that Cain was not always the tough-guy stylist of "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Double Indemnity." He could be sentimental, light-hearted and funny, as in a jokey political sketch called "The Governor," which is also in E. B. and Katherine White's "Subtreasury of American Humor." It's the best of the funny pieces here, but they all tend to be labored and dated, with the awful perishability of newspaper and magazine deadlines upon them like mildew. The major piece, the novella called "Career in C Major," a romantic tale about an amateur opera singer, is mostly interesting as testimony to Cain's empathetic insights about singers and singing, which he employed to far better advantage in "Serenade." The reader is likely to conclude that, in having discovered his tough-guy voice, Cain didn't lose his way, he found it, even if in later years he said he resented the narrow typecasting.

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