Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Postman Always Rings Twice- Final Thoughts

This was a short one, so I didn't really have time to stop half way through and do an update. OH WELL! Here's the low down:

My initial hope for the book was not all that far off, and what my prediction missed in plot details it picked up for in overall cheesiness. A love story intertwined with acts of criminal cunning gone horribly, horribly awry! A drifter, Frank Cunningham, just floating along all by his lonesome, finds work at a rural diner, where he falls in love with the owners wife. The wife falls in love back so they decide to kill the owner and run away with the money. But the murder goes horribly wrong! So they kill him AGAIN! Double crossing! Intrigue! Scandal! Heartbreak! Its all here!

While I can see the book as being important from a historical standpoint, with this setting a standard for crime/detective novels for years to come, its a milestone thats inside a literary tradition I don't care about. This isn't to say that i haven't loved certain genre pieces like this in the past, but as a general rule they don't do anything for me.

One thing I can point to as genuinely awful in this book is the writing style, which also set a standard for years to come, but one that I can never get past. The writing in this book is a horribly clunky mix of botched metaphors and awkward prose. In one definitively horrible section, Mr. Cunningham and a police officer talk about a cat jumping on a fuse box, thereby blowing a fuse in the house during the first botched murder:

"That's it all right. Remember? We were looking at her. She stepped off the ladder on to your fuse box, and it killed her deader than hell."
"That's it all right. You were hardly gone when it happened. Went off like a pistol shot. I hadn't even had time to move the car."
"They caught me down the road."
"You were hardly out of sight."
"Stepped right off the ladder onto a fuse box. Well, that's the way it goes. Them poor dumb things, they can't get it through their head about electricity, can they? No sir, it's too much for them."
"Tough all right."
"That's what it is, it's tough. Killed her deader than hell. Pretty cat, too. Remember, how she looked when she was creeping up that ladder? I never seen a cuter cat than she was."
"And pretty color."
"And killed her deader than hell. Well, I'll be going along. I guess that straightens us out. Had to check up, you know."
"That's right."
"So long. So long, Miss."
"So long."

Here are the important things from this section, as I see them- 1) The cat jumped on the fuse box, 2) That's right, it did, 3) The cop didn't make it very far during the actual murder, 4) Cats don't understand electricity, 5) The cat is still dead, 6) It was pretty, 7) The cat is still dead, and 8) The cop has completely cleared up any sort of wrong doing on the parts of the wife or Frank due to the cat (which is definitely dead).

So there are two options in this section- First, the author was trying to get across a horribly awkward conversation between the cop and Frank, which doesn't make sense to me since the cop (who has seemed suspicious of the two main characters in past scenes) is on the verge of accusing these two people and Frank knows he's guilty. If this were the case, I don't think the tone of the conversation would be awkward small talk, but more a long the lines of, I don't know, horribly tense? Also, the fact that the cop threw out every single suspicion he had because of a cat jumping on a fuse seems less like good police work and more like an awful plot device. Second, the author does not know what people sound like when they talk. The entire section is nothing but repeated phrases, which really lead nowhere. The whole thing could have been condensed to a sentence and a half, and with absolutely nothing even remotely resembling a clever (or god forbid poetic) turn of phrase, then we can switch "could" to "should."

While this might not bother a whole lot of people, its always bugged the hell out of me. While I've never been a huge Shakespeare fan (a few works stand out as incredible, but the rest don't quite do it for me), I understand people's appreciation of the writer, but how people EVER let him get away with using the sudden emergence of pirates in Hamlet as a way of furthering the plot is completely beyond me. Vonnegut was right in saying that Hamlet should have ended after the third act, which makes me shudder even thinking about the unedited version that existed in its earlier years.

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