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The Postman Always Rings Twice Paperback – May 14, 1989
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Penzler Pick, April 2000: It is sometimes easy to trace a literary genre to its source, and James M. Cain's first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, is the noir novel that paved the way for all the noir fiction that followed. The famous film starring Lana Turner and John Garfield is notoriously dark, but the novel is even more full of despair and devoid of hope. It is a short book--little more than a novella--but its searing characterization and depiction of tawdry greed and lust is branded into every reader's memory.
Frank Chambers, a drifter, is dropped from the back of a truck at a rundown rural diner. When he spots Cora, the owner's wife, he instantly decides to stay. The sexy young woman, married to Nick, a violent and thuggish boor, is equally attracted to the younger man and sees him as her way out of her hopeless, boring life. They begin a clandestine affair and plot to kill Nick, beginning their own journey toward destruction.
Horace McCoy, David Goodis, Jim Thompson, and the other notable noir writers never achieved Cain's spare brilliance. Virtually all of his major works have been filmed, though several Hollywood studios refused to make the films, directors refused to be involved, and actors turned down roles because of their repugnance at the lack of morality inherent in all Cain's characters. Reading him may not be fit for a Sunday school class, but once you begin you will be unable to resist continuing, like picking at a painful scab or watching a tarantula inside a glass dome. --Otto Penzler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A good, swift, violent story." --Dashiell Hammett
"A poet of the tabloid murder." --Edmund Wilson
Top customer reviews
The best laid plans of mice and men can be lain flat by the simplest of things and early in the book, a cat of all things spoils the party for our two duplicitous love birds.
i find it hard to believe that two people who can be so cruel and heartless can ever amount to anything and if fate or karma has a say in the way things turn out for any of us in this world, then young Cora and the tramp Frank Chambers don't gave much to look forward to. And they won't get any sympathy from me.
This book is a classic of the genre. Those with any interest in crime, suspense, noir, or even the odd love story should get something from reading this delightful work of literature. Full marks for this one.
While I still haven't figured out just where the title of the book relates to the story (who cares?), what I have figured out is this novel just plain works. This page-burner is a half-day read at best. It's as though someone lit a fuse on a stick of dynamite and you read faster and faster until it all blows up on the protagonist of the story and his lover, two killers who are in their relationship for the money, sadistic and masochistic carnality and, ironically, love.
The book stuck with me for days. Cain didn't waste any time on the flowery descriptions common with works of literature -- no talk of the sounds of leaves crunching underfoot beneath a sky of azure. He jumps right into the eerie plot and takes you into the minds and actions of two amoral people and what they'd do for money and their own brand of twisted love.
Many reviewers call it noir. Others would say it's full of existential dread a la Camus. I call Cain's unique style "existential dreadnoir,' and it's insanely readable and impossible to put down. Grab a couple cups of coffee, read it in five or six hours and be prepared to examine your thoughts for at least a couple of days.
Unsettling and karmic and full of irony, it's titillating crime reading at its best.