The Postman Always Rings Twice was James M. Cain’s first novel published in 1934. Cain’s work is said to be combination of sex and violence. Dashiell Hammett is quoted as saying that his book is a “good, swift, violent story.” It is indeed.
The Postman Always Rings Twice is considered a significant work in the category of crime fiction. Cain’s style is appealing to me for several reasons. He doesn’t waste words. He has a straightforward narrative style that didn’t allow much room for repetition. After all these years, the story holds up well. This is a fast paced story that after the last page was closed, left a lasting impression on me.
What prompted me to pick up this book now was a review I read for The Cocktail Waitress, by author Michael Connelly for The New York Times. Connelly said of Cain’s work: Cain expertly mined the fine line between desire and lust and the consequences incurred by crossing it. And that skill is timeless, whether on the page or on-screen.
This is my second time reading James M. Cain. In his 1950 novel, Double Indemnity, a veteran insurance agent is seduced into killing a lonely housewife’s husband. In this novel, the premise isn’t that much different. In this case a drifter, Frank Chambers and a lonely housewife, Cora Papadakis fall in lust and plot to kill her Greek husband. The themes in both of these novels are about two people who find each other and have an immediate connection based off of their feelings of inadequacy? The women often lead boring lives and want adventure and the men who are drawn to these women are willing to do almost anything for them to have them even if it includes murder.
What seems to be this author’s strength is character and plotting. The tone is bleak. The dialogue is blunt. The first person narrative by Frank was in a staccato writing style. There are all kinds of twists and turns as the protagonists try to outrun their fate. Some of the shenanigans were a bit complicated and had me uncertain of where everyone stood. Cain is excellent at showing you the evolution of a relationship from lust to hate. In the aftermath of things, something almost always doesn’t work out and the lovebirds find themselves in a bind. Suspicion and fear sets in and just that fast, those feelings of love have changed to something else. To quote from the book: But love, when you get fear in it, it’s not love any more. It’s hate.
I was reading how this novel was considered obscene when it was published because of the sex in the story. Dialogue like this: “Rip me, Frank. Rip me like you did that night” probably made some folks blush. All it did was make me giggle a bit. And that title? More of a metaphor than anything else and I’m not going to try to explain it because it didn’t really make much sense to me.
The suspense is generated from the turns in the plot relating to the actions of the characters in the story. You’re kind of on the edge of your seat to see how things turn out for them both as they plot to get rid of the obstacles in their way to happiness that included duplicity and blackmail. This is noir so I didn’t get my hopes up too high that things would end well for them. The ending is shattering with the author pulling no punches to the end. No doubt this story will stay with me for awhile.
It’s said that most of Cain’s work have went on to become major Hollywood films. I’ve never seen the movie version for this novel. After reading it, I am a tad bit curious but doubt I’ll go out of my way to find it and watch it. At any rate, I can’t rate a classic but if I had to be pushed to give this a grade it would be a B+. I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy noir.
I said I was going to read more of the classics that defined crime fiction and I’m happy to add this one to my collection of read novels. I’ve now read Dashiell Hammett, Chester Himes and James M. Cain. Raymond Chandler is a work in progress for me. I’ve yet to get in his works but I’m trying still. I do plan to read James Hadley Chase soon.
Source: I bought this one