Posted on December 15, 2012
I just finished reading Serenade by James M. Cain, and I’m afraid I cannot tell you whether I recommend this book or not. I will say this: If you’re looking for something completely different, this book is for you!
Here’s my take, with lots of spoiler alerts. Maybe one person who reads this will read the book, and I’m not even saying they ought to, so I’m not going to worry about giving away the plot.
As the book opens, we find a guy in Mexico who doesn’t seem to like Mexicans, or Mexico, at all. He’s a washed-up opera singer whose voice cracked, we later learn, because he had a male lover. A Mexican prostitute learns this, just from his singing, and asks him to be her partner in a whorehouse in Acapulco. They’re on their way there, but get sidetracked by a flood and they break into a church and steal communion wine and cook an iguana and have sex and he gets his voice back. Please don’t interrupt me with guestions.
So he goes back to the US and becomes a movie star, but then the producers want him to fulfill his contract to make movies and get paid a lot of money, but he just can’t stand that because they won’t accept the Mexican prostitute for the amazing woman she is, and believe me, she is one amazing woman.
So he ignores these Hollywood contracts and sings with the (NY) Metropolitan Opera, but the only guy who can get him out of these burdensome contracts is Winston — his old boyfriend, who caused him to lose his voice. Winston, it turns out, owns the banks who loaned money to the Hollywood producers, so he can get our hero off the hook, but Winston also wants our hero back, so he calls the immigration authorities on the Mexican prostitute, Juana.
So Winston has moved into the same apartment building as our hero and Juana and he’s having a party. He has called the immigration authorities, and they’re waiting downstairs, but the doorman tips off our hero and he makes arrangements for Juana to scoot. But at the party, Winston is asking Juana about bullfighting and how bullfighters train, and instead of scooting, she comes back with a cape and a sword that she got from a former boyfriend in Mexico.
She explains that bullfighters start by training with a burro, and Winston imitates the burro. Then she explains how they kill the bull. Then she skewers Winston through the chest in what may be the most climactic moment I have ever experienced in a goofy novel of this kind. Then she scoots and the doorman and his pals cover themselves in glory getting her out of there.
After that, it’s just sad. If the hero left Juana alone, she could have a full life, but he hangs on and in the end she is murdered, just because of him. If there’s a lesson to be learned from this book, it is #1 James M. Cain doesn’t believe gay guys can sing opera and #2 when it’s over, it’s over.
Like I say, I can’t recommend this book, but if you’re looking for something completely different, it might just be for you.