Mildred Indemnity Always Twice Pierces the Double Postman

The sheer inanity of so much fiction today sends us necessarily to the past, and not always to Balzac and Trollope.  If we are looking for something readable and American and modern, then this gathering is just the thing.  Indeed, for sheer readability (if not for the finest quality), James M. Cain is hard to beat when he is on a roll, as he unquestionably was in his three most famous novels.

Eyeballing them today requires a bit of cultural context, and, by that, I mean more than understanding that, when Cain was writing, moral fables were not necessarily construed in an inverted manner.  Born in Annapolis in 1892, Cain was a veteran of World War I, that watershed that separated the old culture from the new “disillusioned” tone.  Cain’s hard-boiled manner was a political statement, as was Hemingway’s.  I also mean that we would need to know that Cain was a sophisticated, educated man, the son of a college president and a professor himself, as well as the managing editor of the New Yorker in 1931, before, as a journalist, he relocated to the West Coast and was hired on as a Hollywood hack.  Cain’s Hollywood career was not much, but what he wrote otherwise in California was something else.  This volume contains the best of it, with one possible exception.

The imaginative extension of journalistic experience set him up for his most striking creations,...

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