James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice is a structurally sound tent pole of the noir genre. While it inspired an entire generation of crime writers, you’ll be shocked to know that it was met with a fair share of criticism when initially published. Due to a high volume of violence and sexuality (for its time), the book was shunned by critics and even so far as banned in Boston. Despite best efforts to keep the novel out of the hands and minds of American readers, the book’s originality and Cain’s undeniable talent ushered the novel into instant classic territory. It is now widely regarded as one of the most important crime novels of the 20th century.
Frank Chambers rolls into town with nothing more on his mind than his next meal. He finds himself in a quaint roadside diner and after jawing with the owner, he finds himself with a job. Before long, an attraction sparks between Frank and the owner’s wife, Cora. The two conspire to knock off her husband and hit the road but as one knows, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Frank and Cora are made for one another; the two are about as rotten as politician’s promises. They’re blinded by desire and consumed with the idea of life on the road and it certainly doesn’t do them any favors considering how likable their mark is. In the end, I guess that’s the key to really great noir fiction; you’ve got to make your protagonists as irredeemable as possible and ain’t nothing worth saving when it comes to these two.
For those like me who were a little bewildered by the meaning behind the novel’s title, there’s an excellent explanation on Wikipedia that made me love the book that much more. Obviously there’s spoilers ahead if you choose to check it out but I recommend giving it a look.