I just finished reading The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain. It has been given much praise and hailed over the years as a roman noir classic. Did I think so?
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/Freedigitalphotos.net
I really enjoyed it. The characters were well developed and the story zipped right along. Also, while at times brutal, it never lost my interest. Now by the same token, would it sell today?
Obviously it sold me since I bought it. However it is hard to say if it would. But let's look at why.
IS the story too slow for the modern reader?
Image Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/Freedigitalphotos.net
Not at all. Compared to the 1946 film, it moves rapidly. There is suspense throughout the book and I was never sure where things were going.
Is the story too dated?
Image courtesy of Nuttakit/Freedigitalphotos.net
Well it could be. America has changed a bit since 1934 when it was published. The dialogue is a bit dated and well, I doubt all Californians are making a living selling hot dogs to one another. Still, I don't see why any reader could not get what was happening in the story which is all that matters to hook a reader and keep them hooked.
Really there is only one thing about the book that might give me pause about it selling well if it were released today.
The book is only 116 pages!
Yes, betrayal, scandal and murder all in 116 pages. Now while this sounds good in a way since there are no subplots to wade through to get the story, I think in modern day fiction, this is rare and possibly unacceptable.
All the modern day novels I read have one thing in common- they are at least 250 pages and usually more. There ARE subplots and while they are good reads, you have stay with them for a while to finish. I finished The Postman Always Rings Twice in one day, which brings me to my point.
Most readers want a journey.
Image courtesy of Tongdang/Freedigitalphotos.net
A journey in movie terms is an hour and a half to two hours or maybe more. However, a book priced at ten dollars or more better have enough length to ensure the reader cannot devour the thing standing around the book store. I re-read books all the time, but a lot of people don't and see no point to paying for something so short.
And why should they?
Now don't get me wrong. Some of the best works I have read have been shorter ones. Ambrose Bierce always thought novels were just stories with two many pages between the covers and I feel that he is often correct. Some novels are wonderful but have to throw in subplots that do nothing for the main plot in order to have a sufficient length to call the story a novel. And well, it is a business and if we don't sell books, we don't eat.
My own novel Jack Little, is a little over 80, 000 words.
There aren't many subplots and I think the ones in there are essential to the main plot. There is a lot to Will Hodge's story he is not aware of yet. On his journey, you learn that he does not even know himself that well, but hopefully in the end, he sees more than he did.
So how do you feel? Do you think books would be better without a lot of subplots just to match the length? Or do you want at least 100, 000 words before you even consider handing over your hard-earned money for a good yarn?