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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

The Postman Always Rings Twice - James M. Cain

"In your eyes, I see the doorway to a thousand churches." - Peter Gabriel, 1986

"Her eyes were shining up at me like two blue stars. It was like being in church." - James M. Cain, 1934

I'm not saying, I'm just saying.

So...anyway, What's not to like about The Postman Always Rings Twice? I can't think of a thing, really, that isn't too trivial to mention. On the other hand, what makes it great is everything else.

The characters. They aren't psychopaths. They could have been -- both drifter Frank Chambers and Cora, the married woman he falls for -- given that this is such a short, stark book, without a lot of room or time for character development. But Cain clearly wanted them to be accessible and engaging, simple yet not simplistic. His solution is an elegant one: their simplicity becomes an organic component of their more primitive natures. I'm not saying they're animals, but two people who approach adultery and murder not as questions of morality but rather of convenience are clearly operating under a set of rules just a tad more primal than the ones the rest of us follow. But they aren't psychopaths, in spite of their egocentrism and anti-social behavior. They love and dream like we do. So, on a primitive level, we identify with them, and that's what makes them interesting.

The style. It's hard and tough and just as stripped of sophisticated adornment as the characters. It's a short book, but it reads faster than most stories half its length. Cain doesn't shy away from the violence, but he doesn't dwell on it, either. That you come away thinking these two are the last of the red hot lovers is remarkable for how few words Cain burns on the sex. Remember the 5-minute sex scene in Bob Rafelson's remake of the movie? Cain's got a sex scene like that one in the book. Frank says, "We did plenty."

The postman (the plot). "They threw me off the hay truck about noon." That's how the book begins, and the hay truck might as well be the milkman or anybody else that only bothers to ring once, because that's when Frank's life as he knows it is over and Death starts running things. The story, if you're unfamiliar with it, is about a drifter named Frank who stops in a California diner one day and falls in love with the owner's wife, Cora. Cora is unhappily married and unfulfilled. She wants more from life than her husband is willing to give her. Frank wants Cora, badly. By page 14, they're plotting to kill the poor guy. It's scary how fast these two work. Things don't go quite as expected, however, either when they try to kill the husband in his bathtub or at any other time in the novel. The story takes a number of fun twists and turns on its way to an ending Rafelson saw fit to cut from the remake. I'm guessing he (and screenwriter David Mamet) thought it was hokey. I won't tell you what it is, but I will tell you it isn't hokey.

You gotta reap what you sow.