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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Postman always Rings Twice

by
James M. Cain


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Postman always Rings Twice



Title: The Postman always Rings Twice
Author: James M. Cain
Genre: Novel
Written: 1934
Length: 120 pages
Availability: The Postman always Rings Twice - US
in Everyman's Library collection - US
The Postman always Rings Twice - UK
The Postman always Rings Twice - Canada
The Postman always Rings Twice - India
Le Facteur sonne toujours deux fois - France
Wenn der Postmann zweimal klingelt - Deutschland
Il postino suona sempre due volte - Italia
El cartero siempre llama dos veces - España
  • The Postman always Rings Twice has been filmed twice: in 1946, directed by Tay Garnett, starring Lana Turner and John Garfield, and in 1981, directed by Bob Rafelson, starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange

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Our Assessment:

A- : fast, dark novella with some nice twists

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Nation . 4/4/1934 .
The New Republic . 28/2/1934 T.S.Mathews
New Statesman . 9/6/1934 Peter Quenell
NY Herald Trib. . 18/2/1934 Franklin P. Adams
The NY Times Book Rev. . 18/2/1934 Harold Strauss
The NY Times Book Rev. . 2/3/1969 Ross Macdonald
Satruday Review . 24/2/1934 William Rose Benet
The Spectator . 8/6/1934 .
Time . 19/2/1934 .
TLS . 7/6/1934 E.E.Mavrogordato


  From the Reviews:
  • "His story is a third as long as most novels, and its success is due entirely to one quality: Cain can get down to primary impulses of greed and sex in fewer words than any writer we know of. He has excorcised all the inhibitions; there is a minimum of reason, of complexity, of what we commonly call civilization, between an impulse and its gratification." - Harold Strauss, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Author Cain's high-powered shocker will keep many a reader spellbound. The Postman Always Rings Twice, though it gives the impression of a stark naked love-&-murder story, is actually narrative stripped to its underwear. Author Cain's hero is as hard as any cinema villain but he obeys cinema rules, goes sappy at the end." - Time

  • "Mr Cain overcomes the considerable technical difficulties of making this man the mouthpiece of a connected story, and he does it without ever allowing him a comment, which would be beyond his underdeveloped intelligence." - E.E.Mavrogordato, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Postman always Rings Twice is a fast, sultry little novel. It is narrated by Frank Chambers, a drifter who has been locked up in quite a few states already when he winds up at Nick Papadakis'. Nick owns Twin Oaks Tavern -- "nothing but a roadside sandwich joint, like a million others in California".
       Nick takes a liking to Frank, and he needs help and offers him a job. Frank isn't the kind to settle down anywhere, but Nick is a nice guy -- and then there's Cora:

Except for the shape, she really wasn't any raving beauty, but she had a sulky look to her, and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her.
       So Frank decides to stick around.
       Nick is a really nice guy, but Cora's not in love with him: "I hate that Greek", she tells Frank. She had come to California as an Iowa high school beauty queen, hoping to make it in pictures but recognizing quickly that she didn't stand a chance. She's pretty hard on herself:
And when I began to talk, up there on the screen, they knew me for what I was, and so did I. A cheap Des Moines trollop, that had as much chance in pictures as a monkey has. Not as much. A monkey, anyway, can make you laugh. All I did was make you sick.
       She'd married Nick out of desperation, but now she can't stand it anymore. Not surprisingly, she and Frank start fooling around -- and they even hatch a plot to get rid of Nick. Their plan fails, and Frank takes off -- only to return again.
       Cora almost wishes he hadn't, but she can't help herself:
    "I wish you were some good. You're smart, but you're no good."
    "I'm no good, but I love you."
    "Yes, and I love you."
       The second time around Frank and Cora are more thorough in the complex plan they hatch to get Nick out of the way. They are successful, but they also get arrested. For a while it looks pretty bad for them, but the clever lawyer Katz is called in, and manages -- through some ingenious twists and manipulations -- to get them free. It doesn't appear to cost them anything, as Katz even waives his fee for this once in a lifetime case, but in fact it costs them quite a lot: "We both turned on each other", they note, and that can't easily be undone.
       Frank wants to hit the road with Cora, but she actually starts to enjoy the roadside diner business, and starts making good money at it too. Their relationship is an angry one, and is further complicated when their past comes back to haunt them, leaving Cora with an additional hold on him:
It doesn't cost me a thing to make you dance on air. And that's what you are going to do. Dance, dance, dance.
       Throw in a puma cub and a pregnancy and life veers further in and out of control. Still, things are looking up when disaster strikes. Frank means and does right, but it all goes wrong: what goes around comes around, or, as they apparently say somewhere, the postman always rings twice.
       Frank happens to be innocent of the last crime he's charged with but all his guilt comes back to haunt him:
The jury was out five minutes. The judge said he would give me exactly the same consideration he would show any other mad dog.
       And so it ends. "When I start to figure, it all goes blooey", Frank admits.

       The Postman always Rings Twice roars along menacingly. The nicest figure in the book is Nick, while self-loathing Cora (only briefly redeemed) and the narrator without a conscience (until it's too late) are grim, dark figures. The lovers don't mince words, which is refreshing (and shocking), and the scenes between them are all very good.
       There are weaknesses to the book: the insurance issues and the legal (and less legal) trickery by which Cora and Frank avoid their first murder charge are a bit messy. The puma-woman is also an odd touch -- effective, in a way, but also uncomfortably far-fetched. But the book as a whole -- a bleary blur of menace with only faint glimmers of hope and happiness -- is more than its parts, and the faults fairly easy to overlook.

       Fast-paced, hard-edged, and wonderfully blunt The Postman always Rings Twice is a memorable, effective piece of very dark fiction.

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Links:

The Postman always Rings Twice: Reviews: The Postman always Rings Twice - the films: James M. Cain: Other books by James Cain under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author James Mallahan Cain (1892-1977) was, among other things, managing editor of The New Yorker and a screenwriter. He published his first novel when he was forty-two, and achieved great success with several hard-boiled classics.

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