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Serenade

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  610 ratings  ·  87 reviews
John Sharp had just flopped in Rigoletto, down in Mexico, when he first saw Juana. Somehow, the beautiful Mexican-Indian prostitute offered him a way back, a chance to rebuild his career in New York and Hollywood. But then, like the snake in the garden, Winston Hawes, the prodigiously accomplished conductor, came back in to Sharp's life and an eternal, and lethal, triangle ...more
Paperback, 183 pages
Published April 12th 1978 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1937)
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Jerie this is my favorite book by Cain and one of my all time favorites and it is nothing like anything else, it's noir and then some. Just read it and…morethis is my favorite book by Cain and one of my all time favorites and it is nothing like anything else, it's noir and then some. Just read it and wonder how it ever got past the censors in 1937.(less)

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3.62  · 
Rating details
 ·  610 ratings  ·  87 reviews


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Barry Pierce
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a real hidden gem. I probably wouldn't have even come across this work if it weren't in my bind-up of Cain's novels. The story is of a haggard opera singer who gets with an Indian prostitute in Mexico. They decide to try and make it back to America where our protagonist makes it big with his wonderful operatic talent. However, his past catches up with him and things turn, well, hardboiled.

I thoroughly enjoyed this short novel. It might possibly be my favourite of Cain's works. It's wond
...more
Sistermagpie
May 24, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-lit, novels
One of the craziest books I've ever read. So crazy it deserves a spoilery synopsis. Spoilers to follow:


Johnny is a down and out American singer in Mexico. Once he was a success in Europe, but he lost his voice and now he's broke. Also he's really bigoted. It's good to be prepared for that instead of hit in the face with his racist description of his love interest, Juana, on the very first page. Juana's a prostitute he steals from a bullfighter, but when he gets to her place and sings to her a bi
...more
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Aug 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
[7/10]
Not my favorite novel by Cain. His writing is good, and some scenes really stand out : the introduction of the main characters in a Mexican Cantina, taking shelter in a small church during a storm, an opera concert on a big stadium in Los Angeles, a party in a New York apartment. But I thought the story was too slow, spending too much time building up steam towards a future crash that you feel is coming, but you're not sure from what direction it will hit. I believe it was a deliberate set
...more
Cathy DuPont
Damn it all. I wish I liked this book as much as my Goodreads friends Tfitoby and Jackson.

I wearied page after page after page of opera terms, singing terms, opera names, and page after page about music. Get my drift?

Perhaps if I were more musically inclined, it would have been a better read for me.

And the last quarter of the book which was great, did not make up for the dreariness and torture reading the first three-quarters of the book.

Yes, I'm glad I read it because I love Cain's writing.
...more
Markus Innocenti
Oct 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
To use the cliche - omg. Despite my lifelong passion for crime mystery/american noir, James M. Cain never made it onto my 'must-read' list the way Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, Jim Thompson and Charles Ray Willeford have.

I'd seen some of the 18 films made from his novels - 'Mildred Pierce', 'Double Indemnity', 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' (and Visconti's version 'Ossessione'). Seen the movies, don't need to read the books - or so I thought. How wrong can you be.

'Serenade' turns out to
...more
Toby
Sep 25, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-as-night
James M. Cain whose earliest ambition was to a professional singer takes full advantage of his passion for and knowledge of the art of singing to wind a story of passion, terrible justice, absurd hubris, and star-crossed love across several countries. His protagonist/surrogate is an opera singer trained in France and Italy, his inadvertent femme fatale a Mexican prostitute, together they flee a violent encounter in Mexico to America where his success brings skeletons out of closets and sets them ...more
Andy
Mar 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: noir, James M. Cain
The only James M. Cain classic that couldn't be filmed, "Serenade" in short is about a washed-up opera singer in Tijuana who hooks up with a fiery Aztec prostitute who resurrects his singing talent (yeah, right) and they both trek back to Carnegie Hall where the singer's former concertmaster/gay lover stalks him, only to get an Aztec warrior's sword through the heart from the whore.
Strong stuff? Cain wrote it in 1937, which means he's crazier and cooler than all of us. One of the greatest books
...more
Tammy
Jun 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
I am awarding this a rare 5-star rating.

This is my favorite Cain novel read to date. Absolutely brilliant. Oddly enough, this is the only Cain novel where I cared for the characters. I wanted the guy to get the girl, keep the girl, and live happily ever after. The subtleties given the characters were nuanced and real. And the ending is to die for.

I highly recommend this book. I can't wait to read it again.
Cheryl
Jan 25, 2015 rated it liked it
Serenade: 2 and 1/2 stars. This one was pretty wacky. I'd never heard of a hard-boiled novel starring an opera singer before. Lots of talk about singing, opera and composers, as well as Mexican prostitues and sex. I give a half star for the author's sheer audacity in writing it.
Lauren
Jun 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime
I can't top this review for its summary of the sheer batshit anti-glory that is this book. That is some must-read commentary.

Serenade revolves around Johnny Sharp, a former opera singer whose ruined voice washed him up in Mexico. Johnny hates Mexico, and boy, is he ever happy to tell you about it: the early parts of this bus are like being stuck on an airplane next to the world's worst tourist, who has intense opinions on everything from mariachi music to how Mexicans observe arguments. He's tho
...more
Duke Haney
Jan 09, 2011 rated it liked it
A former roommate left behind an antique, water-damaged collection of three of Cain's novels. I recently stumbled on it, and having seen movie versions of two of the three novels, I opted to read "Serenade," the movie version of which (starring Mario Lanza) I haven't seen. (The movie apparently bears little relation to the novel.) I've now perused a few, in my view, PC takes on "Serenade," but I can't agree with them. This is pulp, and the attitudes in the book, however offensive, not only strik ...more
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
Serenade, first published in 1937, is hands down one of the best novels I've read this year, and I never wanted it to end. Great plot, great characters, and superb writing all combine to create a truly memorable book that I unhesitatingly recommend. Also, I am mystified that nobody has endeavored to make a film adaptation of this novel, as I think it would do really well on the big screen. I also have to wonder if Cormac McCarthy didn't get some of his inspiration for his "Border" trilogy from J ...more
Lynn
Aug 16, 2010 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
David
May 04, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: noirboiled
The following review contains spoilers . . . if you do not want to know the general contours of Serenade's plot, read no further . . . Opera singer John Howard Sharp is a self-loathing homosexual who wants to believe he is like any other man. At one point he protests that all men are 5% gay but that most men are fortunate enough not to meet that special someone who triggers that 5%. Unfortunately for John, he has met that special someone, and it turns out that homosexual activity has the little- ...more
Guillermo Galvan
Feb 23, 2013 rated it did not like it
An awful book that is well written is still an awful book. I picked up Serenade after being impressed by The Post Man Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce. Noir of the '30s and '40s, unfortunately, conveyed racism as acceptable and literature worthy. Sometimes it achieves a gritty and edgy flavor, but Serenade quickly becomes an annoying rant about everything Mexican. I do admit some of Cain's factoids about Mexicans made me laugh: "Luckily, we all know Mexicans can hardly re ...more
Daniel
Sep 22, 2015 rated it did not like it
Pretty rough - story hinges on a relationship that starts with rape and ends with killing a person for being gay and the whole thing is just wildly racist all over. So too *PROBLEMATIC* to really enjoy an otherwise neat story about a down-and-out opera singer regaining his voice. YOU HEAR THAT, BOOK FROM 1937? YOU HAVE SOME REAL BASIC ISSUES THAT PREVENT YOU FROM BEING ANYTHING LESS THAN AWFUL. YOU HEAR ME, PRE-WAR PULP NOVEL? YOU HEAR THIS?
Seth Kanor
Dec 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This might well be the most underrated book in 20th Century American Literature. Serenade is a pyrotechnic and operatic page turner that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let you go until the last sentence. And even then, it doesn't let you go: the way-ahead-of-its-time carnal sexuality shocking you long after you've put it back on the shelf..or have forced it on some unsuspecting friends.
J.
Jul 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Pushes toward five stars, but not recently-read enough for full review. Stands out from even the above-average run of pulp & noir as a unique conception, a weird remix of the standard elements, very intriguing.
Frederick
Jan 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: cain-james-m, novel
[This review contains thematic spoilers.] James M. Cain's SERENADE is a 219-page trigger warning. There is not one page of this that you can read aloud on a crowded sidewalk without expecting to be punched.
As a card-carrying member of the gay community, I looked forward to reading a novel this old about a character trying to escape his gay past. It was published in 1937. Most fiction which even dealt with gay themes then was coded, and a lot of it was packaged so that censors would be met halfwa
...more
Eadie
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2018
I enjoyed this book but I liked Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity better. Cain's knowledge and feeling for the musical world is clearly evident in this story of a famous opera singer, a young conductor and a Mexican-Indian prostitute. His mother was a singer and his first ambition was to become an opera singer but later settled for writing. This book is a great love story of John Howard Sharp, an American opera singer, falling in love with Juana, a Mexican prostitute. It is not a mystery nor i ...more
Teresa
A Cain non interessava il politicamente corretto. Anche in Serenata, come in altri suoi noir, il lettore è portato a parteggiare per il “cattivo” di turno. Un libro che mette in luce tanti aspetti scomodi, con un’interessante ambientazione tra Messico e mondo della lirica.
Coincidenza curiosa: quando ho iniziato a leggere questo romanzo non sapevo che la Serenata del titolo fosse quella del Don Giovanni, di cui proprio in questi giorni sto leggendo varie versioni.
David Lomas
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written, thoroughly gripping - and completely bonkers.
Andrei Alupului
Jan 04, 2008 rated it liked it
On the one hand I really liked this book and on the other I didn't. It's strange, because it shifts gears in rather startling ways at least a couple times, so you can divide it up into a few semi-discrete stories, something that serves to make it more interesting and surprising but that also serves to weaken it, because some of them are better than others. The fact that some of the major plot twists are rooted in bigoted acts that aren't meant to be viewed in a negative light also makes me wary ...more
Gareth Evans
This is the fourth of Cain's books I have read recently and this a real oddity. Double Indemnity and the Postman Always Rings Twice have plots as tight as bow strings and Mildred Pierce is longer, more discursive, but with a firm narrative arc. Serenade is rather different, the plot never really hangs together. Having an opera singer for a central character is certainly novel and the revelations (which I won't reveal here as it spoils the plot somewhat) are certainly groundbreaking for the time. ...more
Yasmine
Sep 11, 2018 rated it liked it
A peculiar book, read over a period of two months (when it could have been read in a shorter time) with good stuff - some kind of "noir" atmosphere and you kind of wanna know how it ends - but with some clearly racist and homophobic shit. Let's say it's because it was written in such a time (the 40's or 50's if I remember). Both main characters are not entirely loveable but Juana is more complex and interesting I guess.

If you're not scared to be spoiled, check out this other review which tells
...more
Lee
Jan 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: noir-pulp
The story starts in Mexico, with stops in Los Angeles then on to New York....and unfortunately back to Mexico. A former popular opera singer, finds two things. His voice again and the wrong woman. Well, in this tale she might have worked out, but she always knew when he lied to her. Knew where he had been - what he had been up to. Then a nice twist when our singer runs into his former mentor/coach....or did he just "happen" to run into the singer? And with great noir like Mr. Cain wrote, the ten ...more
David
Jul 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of hard-boiled fiction
Recommended to David by: a review of Cain's books
Quite unusual and quite good. Settings range from Mexico to Hollywood to New York and back to Mexico. Has some of the Cain-like flavor of The Postman Always Rings Twice. Hero is a washed-up classical singer who has lost his voice but finds it again after falling in love with a Mexican woman. Lots of atmosphere, lots of twists and turns. A very surprising range of activities and events -- a bit far-fetched, but not too-too. Very caustic about Hollywood movie moguls . . . Cain was said to have not ...more
William Thomas
May 04, 2009 rated it did not like it
i picked up this book at a thrift store, one of the original pressings of it and thought that it was a find. i absolutely loved the grit of double indemnity and the postman always rings twice. i thought that this would be the same, but instead i found a book rife with racial epithets and racial slants and a ridiculous amount of loathing, both of the world and himself. it seemed like a reflection of the author and not of the character in the book. i was sorely disappointed in this book becaus ei ...more
David K. Lemons
James goes into a funk on this one. I did not like the structure or the characters. It did evoke my adventures in Acapulco when I was a student in Mexico. I liked the book from the atmosphere created. Cain was a music aficionado and knew a lot about it. So, that's another interesting aspect of Serenade.
Phillip Frey
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: James M. Cain fans
This is not the usual James M. Cain passion/murder. In Serenade there is some passion, and there is a murder, both in a lighter vein. Decades ago there was film made of the book, starring Mario Lanza. The film did not do the book justice; it was pretty awful. I gave the book 4 stars because of Cain's style, which I love.
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James Mallahan Cain was an American journalist and novelist. Although Cain himself vehemently opposed labelling, he is usually associated with the hardboiled school of American crime fiction and seen as one of the creators of the 'roman noir'.

He was born into an Irish Catholic family in Annapolis, Maryland, the son of a prominent educator and an opera singer. He inherited his love for music from h
...more
“I understood it now, understood a lot of things I had never understood before. And mostly I understood what a woman could mean to a man. Before, she had been a pair of eyes, and a shape, something to get excited about. Now she seemed something to lean on, and draw something from, that nothing else could give me. I thought of books I had read, about worship of the Earth, and how she was always called Mother, and none of it made much sense, but those big round breasts did, when I put my head on them, and they began to tremble, and I began to tremble.” 1 likes
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