02 April 2007


Once I heard this very short novel was not a discourse on the postal system, but in fact a noir classic, I was all over it. I got my copy via Bookmooch and took it with me Saturday night while I was out with my friend Katy. (Gotta have something to read on the way home, but my regular read wouldn't fit in my going-out bag.) I read almost all of it that night between Times Square and my apartment and eventually put it down when I was too tired to finish the last 20 pages.

I'll try to write this without giving too much away: The book is narrated by Frank, a vagrant of sorts who stops at a Greek diner in southern California where the owner tries to convince him to stay and work for him at the diner. Frank doesn't want to settle down until he sees the owner's wife, Cora, who's really hot, so he stays there. Frank and Cora fall into lust, and he tries to convince her to run away with her -- but then they hatch a plan to kill her husband. (There are no postmen in the book; I found an interesting (but with spoilers) theory on Wikipedia about the title.)

Depending on what you've been reading lately, this book might be a breath of fresh air. In Cain's world there are no flashbacks or long stretches of dialogue; things happen very quickly (a lot more things than what I've described here, because I didn't want to spoil any of it) and it forces you to read in a different way to handle the punchier text. You don't have to slow down, necessarily, as much as realize that details of the plot are coming at you faster than the last book you read. It's invigorating, though, and I'll definitely be looking for other Cain books to pick up.

Many of his books have since been adapted to films, the most famous being "Mildred Pierce" and "Double Indemnity"; there are also two American movie versions (and several others from other countries) of "The Postman Always Rings Twice," the John Garfield/ Lana Turner version and the Jack Nicholson/ Jessica Lange remake. (Apparently the second is much racier; I didn't find the book that scandalous, but apparently the original film had to be re-edited because it was too shocking to comply with the Hays Code.) I'm adding the Garfield/ Turner to my Netflix queue right now.

Ellen vs. the Modern Library: 42-58

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