Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Having just finished American Rust, I figured it was about time to finally get around to reading Cain's classic The Postman Always Rings Twice. Like Redemption Street, this book was on my dying to read list.

Postman and Cain are often lumped in with the Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler school of crime writing. This is a false categorization. Cain actually writes in a more terse, hard-boiled style than either Hammett or Chandler but the comparisons really end there. Postman (and none of Cain's books that I'm aware of) isn't a mystery. It's all about the consequences of crime. Like any good/true noir it is more an exploration of existential themes than whodunnit. Cain does this so well that Camus cites Postman as the inspiration for his famous existential work "The Stranger."

The story centers on the "love" triangle between Nick and Cora Papadakis and Frank Chambers. Frank is a drifter who lands at Nick and Cora's roadside sandwich joint. Frank and Cora, of course, fall into an obsessive love affair that can only breathe if they are able to get rid of Nick. I'll stop there, because I think you know where this is headed, and I don't want to give away any of the particulars that really make Postman special.

The reading of this book was hurt somewhat for me by the fact that I've seen both the 1946 titular American film (I even own it) several times and the Italian neo-realist film "Ossessione" based on the book. (Hint: if you have to choose try Ossessione, it's a masterpiece) So, I knew the story well. Yet, I was still able to enjoy Cain's terse, clipped prose, and the ending is worth the price of the book alone.

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