Let me start off by saying that I love Double Indemnity, the movie. It’s classic noir, Barbara Stanwyck is great, despite the bad wig, and Fred Murray is slick. Love it. Love it. Love it.
Did I say I love it?
But the book by James Cain? Oh dear, the book.
I finished the 100 page novel today during lunch. After I shut book, I felt cheated. As if I had watched a movie I didn’t like and wanted my money back.
I think it was the last page and a half that did it. But let me start from the beginning.
First off, DI is your typical hard boiled crime novel from the 30s — a type of Jack Webb, just the facts, not too much description but just enough type novel. I liked it. Didn’t love it but I saw why Tony chose it for PD (Picasso’s Dragon). The plot moved, fast and furious, and made 100 pages seem like 40 pages.
Have no doubt, Cain is not a poet. But that’s okay. As he describes places and people, he just tells you what you need to know — the bloody red drapes, the house that spilled over the mountain, the freckles on Phyllis’ face. The strength of his word choice, his diction, is what builds the imagery. I think that’s what allows the plot to move so quickly.
So I’m reading and reading and I’m enjoying the plots and twists when the final page and a half starts becoming this literary extended metaphor comparing one of the characters to …who? The lady in Rime of the Ancient Mariner, who, if memory serves, is rolling dice with death to see who gets the crew in the story. The woman, in a red top and a ghostly white face, represents a fate worse than death. She wins the Mariner (who has an Albatross around his neck.)
Yes. Huff=Mariner. Phyllis=Death woman. Killing the husband for insurance money=Albatross
The metaphor doesn’t escape me at all. In fact, it’s interesting and, if I were an English major in college, could easily become a term paper.
But come on! Rime of the Ancient Mariner? Seriously?
I know that I’m suppose to love that. I do. But after reading 98 pages of intrigue and plot twist and, essentially sticking it to the establishment (yeah insurance fraud!) the Mariner stuff was out of place.
So this lame ending , which was knocked around in my head for hours today, was also lame in the 30s. Check out this quote from Cain himself, as he spoke about the movie version he wrote with Raymond Chandler.
“It’s the only picture I ever saw made from my books that had things in it I wish I had thought of. Wilder’s ending was much better than my ending, and his device for letting the guy tell the story by taking out the office dictating machine – I would have done it if I had thought of it. There are situations in the movie that can make your hands get wet.” (from On Sunset Boulevard by Ed Sikov)
Hum? Guy shot by adulteress girlfriend vs Ancient Mariner suicide pact? Tricky.
Next book: The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano. (I got the Central Library copy. There’s one more at Evergreen. And yes they spelled his name wrong. “Boladno”).
Heres Amazon’s two cents:
The late Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño has been called the García Marquez of his generation, but his novel The Savage Detectives is a lot closer to Y Tu Mamá También than it is to One Hundred Years of Solitude. Hilarious and sexy, meandering and melancholy, full of inside jokes about Latin American literati that you don’t have to understand to enjoy, The Savage Detectives is a companionable and complicated road trip through Mexico City, Barcelona, Israel, Liberia, and finally the desert of northern Mexico. It’s the first of Bolaño’s two giant masterpieces to be translated into English (the second, 2666, is due out next year), and you can see how he’s influenced an era. –Tom Nissley