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Serenade Paperback – June 1, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

Review

the story builds to a stunning and complex climax ... how brilliant that a new generation has the chance to discover this compelling writer. -- Joanna Hines GUARDIAN

About the Author

James M. Cain was born in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1892. Having served in the US Army in World War 1, he became a journalist in Baltimore and New York in the 1920's. He later worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Cain died in 1977
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; Reprint edition (June 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1780220200
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780220208
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,962,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover
If not in the top 10, certainly among the top 100 best books I have ever read. Absolutely stunning images, an entirely unique plot, and a whole new meaning to the song "Cielito lindo."
"Postman" was OK, but I think "Serenade" was Cain's masterpiece. It compares favorably with Charles Willeford's "The Way We Die Now", which is high praise indeed.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Chris Ward VINE VOICE on December 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
Everyone should read three James M. Cains: "The Postman Always Rings Twice," "Double Indemnity," and "Serenade." His writing reached its peak with these three. The first two are hard-boiled and terse and nasty, and they move like bullets to their sordid ends. But "Serenade" is almost lyrically operatic, in keeping with the soap opera that is the protagonist's love life. This tremendously forward-looking and unpredictable (and brief and economical) book melds a number of Cain's loves into a tapestry of nearly ludicrous proportions. Read it! You won't be disappointed.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By firebird@computer-partner.de on January 22, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
One of the greatest love stories ever written, in my mind. Full of aggression, cynicism, pace but also of passion. His picture of pre-War Mexico is magical, if somewhat seedy. It is a tragedy that it is out of print - the Postman Always Rings Twice shadowed this more sophisticated, but just as readable novel, due to the Film.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael G. VINE VOICE on April 10, 2010
Format: Paperback
Serenade by James M. Cain, the story of an opera singer, has an ambitious, over-the-top plot. A plot which, quite befittingly, could be turned into a pretty good modern day opera.
As the novel opens, John Howard Sharp, once the toast of Europe because of his magnificent operatic voice, is now penniless in Mexico. He meets and falls in love with an illiterate prostitute who turns his life around. Together, they enter the United States, where Sharp's singing ability again brings him fame and wealth. But, Sharp carries the seed of tragedy within him and by novel's end tragedy is in full bloom.
Had Serenade been written in today's world, it would correctly be criticized as homophobic and racist (toward Mexicans). But, when first published in 1937, it must have been described as risque and avant garde. This is a bold, full speed ahead example of fiction writing. Despite its over-the-top storyline, Serenade is well worth reading.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Most readers and critics seem to agree that this novel is not one of Cain's best, and I agree with that judgment. However, it is nevertheless an interesting story, well worth reading.

First, the negatives: The plot is ludicrous, as others have noted, fit only for grand opera. In fact, the novel can be read on one level as a parody of grand opera. The main character is unbelievable. At least, he doesn't resemble anyone I've ever met. But it wouldn't be difficult to believe that Hollywood is populated by such people, and that Cain knew a number of them fairly well. Most of the secondary characters are cardboard stereotypes. The ending is an anti-climax and unimaginative. It's almost as if Cain got tired of the story and wanted to bring it to an end any old way, and so chose the most obvious and banal ending possible. The crude racial and sexual terminology the protagonist uses in his interior monologue will put off many modern readers. In addition to being offensive, it isn't quite believable that a person of Sharp's supposedly sophisticated background would think in such derogatory terms, even in the 1930's, but perhaps I am wrong about that.

Now for the positives: The settings are quite well done, and very interesting: The drive from Mexico City to Acapulco, the descriptions of the houses of prostitution, the concert at the Hollywood Bowl, the party scene in the Director's apartment, are all very well done. The sex scenes, while tame by modern standards, are quite good. The dialogue is sharp and believable. Sharp's interior monologues on music are entertaining and educational. However, the highlight of the story is Juana's character. She is a prostitute, and therefore a realist - uneducated but intelligent and perceptive.
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Format: Paperback
… to appear in one of Cain's stories. I don't see a lot of exceptions, though. This isn't just noir – although it's among the finest of the genre – it's about the darkest and grittiest you'll find.

Sharp, the central character, seems to despise just about everyone and everything except his beloved music. (Brace yourself for plenty of ethnic slurs, as casual as they are brutal.) He's forceful around other people, since that gets him what he wants. People around him in this first-person narrative seem more like props in his world, or means to his ends, and less like humans like himself. I can't think of an example showing more than the shallowest interest in another person's emotions. (There to be some, though to get what you want from them.) And, like characters in Cain's other books, they act in and for the present. Future consequences don't enter their thinking, no matter how much the people around them try to bring them up.

I find Cain hard to read – not because he writes badly, but because he writes so very well. He portrays people much too much like ones I know, living from one disaster, petty scam, or brush with the law to the next. You know, the ones who don't know what causes self-inflicted injuries. There's a lot more heart in works by Dashiell Hammet, for example. But, if you want a story that feels like a punch in the gut, Cain's the one to read.

-- wiredweird
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