In the preface, Cain said he was originally working on a story about a family that migrates from rural Kentucky to California during the lean years, looking to improve their station in life. But then Steinbeck published his magisterial Grapes of Wrath
, so he scrapped the project. As time went on, he collected more and more ideas for other stories. When he finally wrote The Butterfly
, he picked and chose various disparate elements from these stories to create one cohesive narrative. All I can say is, if I were Cain I would have been pretty bitter that I had to scrap my original story. Steinbeck's novel has gone down as one of the masterworks of 20th century literature and helped cement him being awarded the Nobel prize, whereas Cain was essentially forced to abandon something that could have been his ticket to greatness and instead create a forgotten novella that will never win anything. Would Cain's Unknown California Novel been in the league of Grapes
? We'll never know, but I can't help but think the author must have felt a little resentful that we'd never know.
The first half of this novel is a 2-star affair, the second half 3. It was sufficiently bizarre that I feel it deserves the higher of the two. Incest? Mountain people? Applejack bootlegging? Murder? All in here, folks!