Re: RARA-AVIS: Surprise Endings (was "Unreliable narrator")

From: Karin Montin (
Date: 13 Nov 2005

I don't have Postman or Double Indemnity on hand, so I can't go look anything up. I may well be wrong about who we're supposed to sympathize with. And I forgot to say that I agree the ironic ending is very good.

All I know is that I was disappointed in them, as sometimes happens after hearing nothing but raves. With the number of promising books ahead of me, however, I don't intend to reread them anytime soon. Reading his two most famous books did not make me seek out the others, either.

My remarks comparing Christie and Cain were in response to Vicki. I disagree that Christie cheated in her plots, though maybe she did once in a while. She relies heavily on character types, it's true. But, having read dozens of her books in my life, and three of them in the past year, I admire her originality in plotting and versatility. One of the books was set in ancient Egypt! Anyway, they're not noir or hard-boiled so we shouldn't even be talking about her.

The thing is, Vicki's comments encouraged me to toss a stone at the Cain idol.

You're right, though, Al--limited output says nothing about quality. That was a pointless remark. After hitting send, I immediately though of Harper Lee, of course. And as you say, Cain's work was very influential.

I guess my main point was that I don't feel The Postman Always Rings Twice lives up to its reputation on this list, although I can't go into any more detail because it's all a blur now. I don't think anyone else has ever said they didn't really like it.


At 08:50 12/11/05 -0500, Vicki wrote:

>I do think Agatha Christie is the most overrated author in history and her
>cheating and lack of characterization are stunning.

At 19:43 12/11/05 -0500, Vicki wrote:

>Notice that Cain, being in the same era, has no racism, and his women might be bad, but they're not weak.

At 14:02 13/11/05 +0000, Al wrote:

>----- Original Message -----
>From: "Karin Montin" <>
>> No racism in Cain? The slurs against Mexicans and the Greek café ¯wner
>> (husband) bothered me when I read the book a few years ago. Cora is
>> insistent that she's not a "Mex," that she's white, and the Greek is
>> called greasy over and over.
>Yep, this was my response too. Cain's got a real grease fixation in POSTMAN.
>A quick flick through and I found these:
>Cora (on Greeks): "I can't have no greasy Greek child, Frank...The only one
>I can have a child by is you."
>Frank (on Mexicans): "Those Mexican women, they all got big hips and bum
>legs and breasts up under their chin and yellow skin and hair that looks
>like it had bacon fat on it...They all got white teeth, you've got to hand
>that to them."
>>These remarks serve to build the characters, yet our sympathies are
>>supposed to lie with the narrator, at least at the beginning.
>Not for me. My sympathies definitely lie with Nick, the husband. Frank and
>Cora are not nice people, but nice people rarely make engaging or realistic
>noir protagonists. I may be mistaken, but I doubt contemporary readers of
>Cain would have seen in Cora or Frank's racial slurs anything out of the
>ordinary. If they did, God help them if they read James Ross's THEY DON'T
>DANCE MUCH a few years later. What is remarkable (and, significantly,
>intriguing) about the racism in POSTMAN is that Cora's remarks are directed
>at her husband. As for Frank's comment on Mexican women, the irony, as far
>as I can recall, is that despite her protestations to the contrary, Cora's
>> In my humble opinion, The Postman Always Rings Twice is vastly overrated.
>> Cain, unlike Agatha Christie, was a two-hit wonder. I know he wrote more
>> but everyone thinks immediately of Postman and Double Indemnity.
>Not everyone, Karin. I also think of Serenade, The Butterfly, Past All
>Dishonor and Sinful Woman. Some people will also think of Mildred Pierce,
>maybe because of that movie. But I'm not sure of your point here. Cain's
>limited output certainly doesn't make the prolific Agatha Christie a better
>or more impressive writer, just makes Christie more prolific. If number of
>'hits' is significant, Harper Lee's not even at the races. In any case, I
>don't see how any comparison between the character-driven, non-investigate
>noir novels of James Cain and the plot-driven, puzzle-solving investigative
>'cosies' of Agatha Christie is ever going to be relevant or fair. They're
>too different. Might as well try comparing Guinness and Coke.
>I don't know if Cain is overrated (not by Chandler, certainly, who couldn't
>stand him). But I do think he's one of the most influential crime writers of
>all time and one of the very few whose influence spread beyond the genre
>(although some might argue that Camus' THE OUTSIDER is noir).

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 13 Nov 2005 EST