The Postman Always Rings Twice Paperback – May 14 1989
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"A good, swift, violent story." --Dashiell Hammett
"A poet of the tabloid murder." --Edmund Wilson
From the Inside Flap
An amoral young tramp. A beautiful, sullen woman with an inconvenient husband. A problem that has only one grisly solution--a solution that only creates other problems that no one can ever solve.
First published in 1934 and banned in Boston for its explosive mixture of violence and eroticism, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic of the "roman noir. It established James M. Cain as a major novelist with an unsparing vision of America's bleak underside, and was acknowledged by Albert Camus as the model for "The Stranger.
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Before I try to make sense of this, let's continue.
Frank Chambers is a young drifter who rolls into town, goes to work in a diner for Nick, a tough Greek, falls for Nick's young wife Cora, then decides, with Cora's help, to murder Nick and take over the restaurant. What should be simple becomes more complex. The first murder attempt fails, the second one is successful but easy to see through. With the help of a very smart and very crooked lawyer, both Frank and Cora are soon free. That, really, is where the problems start.
Frank and Cora love and hate each other fiercely, speaking with remarkably accurate, real dialogue. Cain doesn't even attribute his dialogue, so pay close attention to who's speaking. The book is mostly just people talking, in very real language, full of slang and fragmented sentences. It's like listening to a REALLY interesting conversation.
Frank and Cora are two very small, unremarkable, inconsequential people caught up in something too big for them to understand. They mistake happiness and hope for lust, hate, anger and even apathy. And just when things look alright, one little, honest accident washes it all away. This book shows us how fragile everything is, or at least how fragile it can be. That's what elevates this to the level of tragedy. This is something to live with and dwell upon, something you can never quite shake off, no matter how hard you try.
Thus begins this tawdry tale of desperation, lust and lies. Published in 1934 and banned in Boston for its violence and eroticism, "The Postman Always Rings Twice" is like back alley fisticuffs--it ain't pretty, but it works.
"I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs."
No, this isn't "Romeo and Juliet." It's two careless people who somehow fall in love in spite of each other and then convince themselves they can get away with murder.
The results are less than spectacular.
This story is bare-knuckled, unflinchingly masculine, and briskly told in 116 pages. Frank Chambers himself narrates, peppering the narrative with 1930s colloquialisms and a drifter's outlook.
It's as American as a motorcycle cop on a California highway.
I should also state for the record, both movie versions of this book were terribly miscast.
The two leading enigmatic characters, Frank and Cora, as does Meursault in The Stranger, assume ultimate responsibility for their heinous acts of free will without any knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad. Being a novel noir genre fan, I recommend the once-banned Postman to anyone who has the stomach for some mild eroticism, violence, and moreover, clever writing.
At any rate, the title finally chosen is somewhat magical as is the novel itself, the first of Cain's hard-boiled, loser tales that somehow caught the imagination and psyche of depression America. Re-reading the novel today one wonders why, but then again, I can see why.
First there's the raw sex with Frank forcing himself onto Cora, biting her lip, etc. and she loving it, that was somewhat shocking for its time. Ditto for the spontaneous sex they have in the dirt outside the car after Frank has beamed Nick. Then there is the fascination we have with stupid people doing vile deeds rather clumsily (with whom we might identify). But more than anything else it's the style.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Simple book. Lacks any depth to the plot. Two uninspiring main characters following basic impulses and getting into trouble. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Tim Bolton
The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic landmark work of crime fiction and very much worth a read both for its cultural significance and on the merits of the story itself. Read morePublished on Feb. 1 2013 by Kei Smith
This slim novel was first publishedin 1934, it felt timeless to me and was finished in one sitting without pause. Read morePublished on May 19 2004 by David A. Riley
A blurb on the back dubbed this "a swift, violent story". Yes! Bracing and breathtaking in its economy and speed. Apparently L'Etranger used this as its model. Read morePublished on Dec 23 2003 by H. Cross
Opportunity may knock once, but fate may ring at your door more than once and has a strange way of turning on you. Read morePublished on July 21 2003 by Damian P. Gadal
Classic ! A little old fashioned, but that's what's charming about the book. The story is well told. I was not disappointed...Published on July 13 2003 by Jean-Marc M Salama
This was a perfect adultery/murder/cover-up story. The writing style is very simple, but vivid, and the story will have you on the edge of your seat. Read morePublished on June 21 2003 by P. Costello
This classic noir novel does not disappoint, even in our cynical age. This would make a good book for an airline flight or some time when you have a few hours to kill. Read morePublished on Jan. 22 2003 by Scott Swindle
Once you start to read this book, you will be gripped. I couldn't put the darn thing down for a minute. Read morePublished on Nov. 19 2002