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The Moth - A Novel by James M Cain

Updated on February 20, 2017
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Ms. Venegas believes reading is essential for understanding the rapidly changing world. She enjoys sharing books with others.

I Am Reading A Novel Called The Moth Written in 1947-48

James M. Cain is the author I am collecting and reading. This reading obsession started in the 1990s and only after the mini series Mildred Pierce have I been able find the titles of most of his writings. The Cain books can only be found on ebay.

A couple of decades ago I found what I could of his novels in reprint. Cain was not a famous man of literary note. Critics in the past tended to pan his works, though for study in colleges, his form, style and structure were valued in writing courses.

I stopped into a second hand book store once and the attendant was not even aware of James M Cain. I came away thinking what a shame because I had enjoyed The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce so much. I wanted to read what else he had come up with in his writing career. After 2000 I started searching eBay, but my sporadic searches did not turn up anything new.

Not so now after the mini series Mildred Pierce in 2012. There are scores of James M. Cain books on eBay. The second hand books have 1950s style dust jackets and the books are yellowed, but now I can go on a reading spree.

Back of Old Book
Back of Old Book

The Novel "The Moth" is My Next Read

This novel was never made into a movie. There are 17 movies based on Cain novels and he co-wrote one movie script for "Gypsy Wildcat" in 1944. On the jacket, of the book I acquired, written by the publishing company Alfred A Knopf, Publisher, NY, it states, "The present book bears out a statement made by Mr. Cain in his preface to Three of a Kind (1942): " I confess that lately, having got past the stymie of style that bothered me for so many years, I wanted to tell tales of a wider implication than those which deal exclusively with one man's relationship to one woman."

The brief summary in the inside jacket hints of a story about a man, starting at childhood and into his adult years, through a few periods in his life that are not so nice: "life of a panhandler and hobo, the terror of a thief, the aching weariness of a fruit-picker, the pride of a successful oilman. After action in World War II, he was invalided to this country.....".

It took about a year of thinking back about this novel that I realized the plot structure was used for the movie "Forest Gump". Two things are telling here. First, that I was still thinking of the novel many months after I read it and second his ideas were again used for a movie.

I sounds like a book I wanted to read. But why is it called the The Moth?

Short Review of The Moth

James M Cain After Mildred Pierce

By 1948 when The Moth was written Cain's claim to fame was fading. The Moth achieved only moderate success and even though Cain was writing until his death in 1972, at age 82, his name no longer appeared on important author's lists.

In the 1960s not one of his dozens of short stories appeared in my high school English books. I discovered his writing for myself from a book store's shelf in 1990. After the release of the HBO mini series of Mildred Pierce many of his books are now on eBay. This is the chance to get your collection. I recently purchased four old copies of his novels. The Moth was one of them.

After the first few pages of this book I was hooked and thoroughly enjoyed it to the last page. It is not a crime novel but a portrait of a young man, John Dillon, and also of the U. S.

Cain was, through his life, close to his family and the beginning of our novel starts with the childhood and family life of Jack. As a kid playing in a park near home he sees a Luna moth, the green colors as bright as a star and its flight as free as any flying bird.

Later after he becomes famous as a football college great, he hits the lowest in hope as a hobo of the 30s and becomes best friends of those that were not fortunate like him in his youth. As his fortunes raise in the oil fields of Los Angeles, the furthest he could go before land's end, he denies his former loyalties to a still down and out friend, a rejection that we feel is as shameful as all the other human relationships he has denied, as he wanders from his family's home in Maryland to the bright sun of southern California.

In the end he is reunited with members of his family and deeply feels he is finally home again, the Luna moth recalled as a symbol of tranquility that only experience can bring about.

What does this sound like? This is a plot technique, including reference to an object of symbol in the beginning and end that was used for the popular movie Forest Gump. Cain taught writing in his 20s and used this plot technique for this novel in 1948.

Are you a fan of James M Cain?

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Cain Wrote From Experience and Study

I think it is Cain's closeness to his family and the true interest and enjoyment of conversation, he sought in people through his life, that gives a deep human interest to all his written characters. He was an intelligent of the H.L Mencken set, and nonetheless, possessed sensibilities that even won the closeness and lifelong attachments of two young stepchildren.

The human sensibilities Cain can achieve in just a few scenes, keeps you turning the page, an interest develops between you and the character in the most subtle way, one hardly knows it is happening. The Moth is a short book with enough emotion to make you feel you read a life's saga, without the heavy commitment of a longer book like "Gone With the Wind", a James A. Michener, or novels like "The Godfather" that became popular reading through the 60's and 70's.

Many scenes that Cain introduced into his stories were actual places and events that he researched in advance. He observed the huge railroad switching stations and the hobos that populated the tracks, and was an avid fan of football through his college years. Cain enjoyed music and hosted sing-a-longs in his LA home, these three experiences our hero Jack knows as a young man in the 1920s and 30's.

If you are fan of Cain's more popular novels take in this one, too.

Meanwhile, read my two other web articles about James M Cain here and here.

Amazon Also Has Vintage Cain Books

James M Cain book collection
James M Cain book collection

Reading A Certain Author is Like Collecting

In my earlier days I would go to the library to read more novels by I particular novelist. My early twenties I read F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read all of Fitzgerald's novels and many of his short stories. Also read biographies of Scott and Zelda each and have a large coffee table book of their pictures and scrapbooks.

The immersion was a dreamy escape into the 1920s and into someone else's life. My own life was working daily and raising a daughter as a single parent, and no real love in my life, either. Oh, I enjoyed the reading so much.

It is decades latter and in the passing years I found the hard-boiled authors like Chandler, Mosley and James M Cain. I also became enchanted with film noir, "Double Indemnity" being the film that brought me to reading the author of the novel by the same name.


Hoopes, Roy. Cain: The Biography of James M.Cain. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987.

Cain, James M. The Moth. New York: Alfred A, Knopf, Inc., 1948.

Have You Read Mr. Cain's Writings?

You can leave a comment on your reading experience of Cain.

My son Matt who is half my age told me I was binge viewing the series "Breaking Bad". I guess I did because I watched four seasons in two weeks.

Have you read many books by a certain author and can't get enough of his/her style or wondering what will he come up with in a new novel?

© 2013 Sherry Venegas

Are You A Binge Reader of an Author?

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      julieannbrady 3 years ago

      Oh, yes I was years and years ago -- I read everything that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote when I was a teenager! And, of course all the Nancy Drew books too. This one sounds interesting.

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      Sherry Venegas 4 years ago from La Verne, CA

      @anonymous: Nico,

      The novel you are recalling is "The Moth". You will enjoy it again if you should reread it. There is not a word wasted or a superfluous scene in the book.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Can you help me, I look for a book which I rode when I was adolescent, Its title I don't know any more, but the more that probably of James M Cain.

      Here is a short summary of my memories about this book.

      It is a love story between two persons with a difference in age of 20 years, he is the private tutor of the girl.

      At the end of the apprenticeship contract he left to the war, they meet many years later and they definitevely live together.

      What is the title of this book?

      Thank you for your help !


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      goldenrulecomics 4 years ago

      Yes, I binge read and have read a number of Cain's novels, including The Waitress just recently. I haven't read the Moth, though...

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      Nancy Tate Hellams 4 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I used to Binge Read of an author but in the last few years, I just hop from one to another. I have never read anything by James Cain but you sure make The Moth sound like a good read.

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      Sherry Venegas 4 years ago from La Verne, CA

      @tvyps: My review last month was on Mildred Pierce. I reread it for the second time last month to compare it to the new mini series.

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Yes, I tend to do that. I am stuck on Perry Stone right now. Have you read "Mildred Pierce?" It is another book that I intend to read. I saw the movie, years ago and I believe it was Joan Crawford in the title role. I also believe she won an Oscar for it. It is one that you might not think that Cain would write, very bleak. Anyway, I enjoyed your lens and am blessing it! See you next month?