Author James Cain (1892-1977) burst on the writing scene in 1930 with Our Government, a collection of satirical stereotypes of governments. This was a microscopic debut compared to his wildly popular 1934 work of crime-fiction, The Postman Always Rings Twice. The novel became an instant hit, made Cain a notable author, and spawned seven film adaptations. One could consult any number of crime-fiction references and follow any rabbit hole to learn more about this novel and author, but here's my take on this influential classic:
The novel begins when drifting menace, and first-person narrator, Frank Chambers is kicked off of a train in rural southern California. He stumbles upon a diner, orders a bunch of food, and tells the dive's owner, a Greek named Nick, that his friend is coming to meet him for lunch and to pick up the bill. This is a lie, of course, but Nick sees something in Frank that he likes and offers him a job working on cars on the same lot at the restaurant. Frank takes the job after glancing at Nick's wife Cora, a cook and waitress at the restaurant.
One thing leads to another and Frank successfully seduces Cora. In secret, the two engage in a sexual relationship, and plan on running away after killing Nick. It all seems to go as planned until a black cat throws a crinkle into the dubious plot. After the first murder attempt is foiled, the duo plan another, more elaborate plot involving a car accident and liquor. This one leads to interaction with rival, yet friendly attorneys that pit Cora and Frank against one another.
Cain's novel is simplistic, literary ecstasy. The entanglement of these two characters, the miserable wife Cora, no longer complacent with her unhappy marriage, and small-timer Frank, destined to remain on the wrong side of the tracks, slowly unravels in a frenzy of jealousy, rage, and sex. Each of the three characters, innocent 'ole Nick included, are dynamic characters that remain a fixture in the reader's mind long after the last morbid pages are read.
In many ways, The Postman Always Rings Twice surely influenced the paperback original novelists that thrived off of the femme fatale sub-genre of crime-noir – Gil Brewer and Orrie Hitt. I'm not sure if a lot of the vintage paperback crime-noir novels populating my shelves and this blog even exist without Cain's masterpiece. Worthy of a legacy? Yes indeed. Highest possible recommendation.
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