The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

First read: 1/2002
Reviewed on: 2/7/2002
Click here to buy it

I did not like it.
I liked it.
I thought it one of the Best Novels of All Time I get out my book list, to decide what book to read next, when I noticed this book on it.  What a happy moment!  Why?  Because I read it last month, not knowing it was on the list.

Here follows the tale of how I came to pick up The Postman Always Rings Twice:  Once upon a time, I was staying at my friend Joe's house, and I wound up reading his copy of Shoot the Piano Player (or Down There) by David Goodis.  I was amazed.  Not only was it the best book I ever read, it wasn't even a close call.  I sent a copy to my stepfather, with a note "This is the best book I've ever read."  My mother picked it up, read the first page, and then sat down and read it all.  She called me a week later, to ask why I thought it was the "best book I've ever read," since she didn't think it was Great.  I asked her when the last time was that she sat down and read an entire novel, start to finish.  She said, "It has been years."  I asked her if she's been thinking about the characters at least once a day in the week since she'd read it.   She said, "Come to think of it, I have."  I asked her when the last time was that she called me up just to discuss a novel she had read.  She answered "Never" which was true.  And that pretty much answered her question.

The book takes less than two hours to read, but after you are done, it feels like a much longer book.  Goodis packs a LOT of story in a few pages.   And it isn't just "plot."  I can vividly describe every single location to you.  I know what the characters look like, how they sound, how they think, how they smell...  they are REAL to me.  I don't want to go on and on about David Goodis, since I am reviewing James Cain, but I have to say this:  Nobody does it better.  He writes Literature.  He writes Entertainment.  And he wrote for pulp-novel publishers, and was never noticed by the Literati until years after his death.  To this day, most people have not heard of him.

I asked Joe if there were any other authors that I should know about, and he lent me my first Jim Thompson novel. Thompson's career was similar to Goodis's - he wrote pulp "crime fiction" and was not taken seriously (although he had more success than Goodis, and certainly made more money.)  Here's the difference:  The last Jim Thompson novel I read had an introduction by Stephen King, talking about how great a writer J.T. was.  The last David Goodis novel I read had no introduction by anybody.  While Goodis' characters are completely real, Jim's are Hyper-real.  Jim takes everything farther than you can imagine.   While a Dave Goodis book may have a scene where a lovely woman kisses a man to distract him so she can get his gun, Jim Thompson would have the woman be the man's SISTER, and she wouldn't just take his gun; she would shoot him in the kneecaps, before telling the police he had tried to rape her.

I've deliberately not gone wild and bought all of these two authors' novels - I am savoring them.  But I've become fascinated with that "hard boiled" genre, and so I bought The Postman Always Rings Twice which is supposed to have been a groundbreaking example of it as well as being an excellent novel.  I bought my copy from amaz*n and read it on a plane ride last month.

My god, it was gripping.  Worth every line of hype written about it.  The narrator, the dangerous lady, the Victim husband, the defense attorney...  even though all the characters are cliched by now, they still were amazing to read about.  I would thoroughly recommend this book to anybody who doesn't mind a little sex and violence along with their Literature. why didn't I think this one of the Best Novels of All Time?   Well, had I read this book earlier I probably would have given it three s.  But I couldn't bring myself to do it, because David Goodis does everything James M. Cain does, and does it so much better that James M. Cain actually becomes diminished in my mind. 

Click here to buy Shoot The Piano Player.
Click here to buy my favorite Jim Thompson novel (so far).

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