Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Sometimes I'll read a classic that I admire more than I like.  The Postman Always Rings Twice falls into this category.  It landed on several "Best Novels of the Century" or "Essentials" lists, and I understand why.  It just left me cold.  Perhaps it's the coldness of the characters, but the casual anti-everyone language (which was true to the era) may be part of it as well.

We view the appropriately sordid events that unfurl around a Southern California road stop through the unreliable eyes of Frank Chambers.  He's a drifter who finds a job at Nick Papadakis's diner and begins an affair with Nick's wife Cora.  She's a Midwest beauty pageant winner who came to California for a screen test and instead of being "discovered," discovered that she had no talent or screen presence.  Frank and Cora plot to kill Frank, fail in their first attempt and then succeed.  It's a steamy, brutal book, with an unexpected twist.

So why didn't I like it?  I don't need nice or sympathetic characters, but Frank, Nick, and Cora are tissue-thin.  I don't usually mind brutality, but there was a sexual tinge to the violence that made me uncomfortable, and the blatantly prejudiced language seemed extreme, even for a 1940s pulp novel.  Maybe I was also comparing it to Mildred Pierce, Cain's non-genre novel which I found so compelling.

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