- Paperback: 128 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard; 1 edition (May 14 1989)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679723250
- ISBN-13: 978-0679723257
- Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 113 g
- Average Customer Review: 36 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #45,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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Top Customer Reviews
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. Cain raised the dime novel to something amazing with his no nonsense, no time to chat, no description beyond the absolutely necessary--a pared-down to raw flesh and bones writing style that made even some of the icons of literature sit up and take notice. Edmund Wilson, long the dean of American literary critics, was intrigued by the novel, as was Franklin P Adams who called it "the most engrossing, unlaydownable book that I have any memory of." (Quoted from Paul Skenazy's critical work, James M. Cain (1989), pp. 20-21). And Albert Camus said that his internationally famous masterpiece The Stranger was based in part on Postman. The alternate English title, "The Outsider," perhaps reveals its debt to Cain more clearly. Today the sex seems rather tame and the terse style seems almost a burlesque, having been so often imitated. I personally think that Cain, who was a one-time editor of The New Yorker and a relatively sophisticated literary man, was actually taking Hemingway's primer-prose style to its logical conclusion by simply cutting out all of Hemingway's poetic repetitions and anything else that didn't move the plot.
Well, how well does this stand up after almost seventy years? It was made into two movies, a 1946 version starring John Garfield and Lana Turner and a 1981 version starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, which you might want to compare. You can read the novel faster than you can watch either movie. I read it in an hour and I'm no speed reader. There was also a play and, believe it or not, an opera. The atmosphere is suburban naturalistic, set in the environs of Glendale, California, just north of L.A. where there really are (or mostly were) oak trees. (The name of the café is the Twin Oaks.) The story is a little confused in parts, and a little unlikely elsewhere (Cora really would not be such an adept at gun toting, and the Frank would not be so quick to fall for the D.A.'s line of chatter and turn on Cora, nor could Nick be quite so blind to the hanky-panky going on behind his back). But what Cain got so, so very right was the underlying psychology. This is a classic triangle, the old guy with the resources who can't cut the mustard anymore with a young wife who longs for love, a little excitement and to be rid of "that greasy Greek." Even deeper (and this is characteristic of Cain) is the suggestion that Nick encouraged Frank and kept him around, using his presence to spice up his own libido. Furthermore, Frank is a kind of depression-era anti-hero, who beat up on the hated railway dicks, the kind of guy who has become a film noir staple, a man who acts out his basic desires in an amoral, animalistic way. I see woman. I take woman. I eat when I'm hungry, drink when I'm dry, and sleep when I run out of gas, a kind of natural man on the run, the kind of guy we think we would like to be for a change (a brief change) in our daydreams around two p.m. on a blue Monday afternoon.
Cain followed this up with Double Indemnity (using some insurance fraud research he had left over). Double Indemnity appeared as a serial in Liberty magazine after being rejected by Redbook. It was also made into a classic Billy Wilder movie starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson in 1944 a year after it finally appeared in book form.
Cain, along with Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Nathanael West and later Ross MacDonald created a kind of southern California milieu that Hollywood has mined again and again with such postmodern films as, e.g., Chinatown (1974) and L.A. Confidential (1997). Read this (during lunch) for its historical value as a precursor of film noir and the hard-boiled detective novel.
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.
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