The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain

Remember me talking about books I was familiar with but wasn’t really familiar with? We’ve hit another one, The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain. I was familiar with the title because of the old movie. Really familiar. However, I never saw the movie. Didn’t have a clue, not the slightest clue, what it was about. Didn’t even know there was a book. Literally, all I knew was the title. Absolutely clueless as to anything about the book, even the context.

So…what is The Postman Always Rings Twice about?

(For those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 6th for Walter Kirn)

Frank Chambers is a drifter. Depression era. He stops in to a Greek’s restaurant/gas station and ends up being offered a job. He isn’t intending to take it, but then he catches sight of the Greek’s wife:

Then I saw her. She had been out back, in the kitchen, but she came in to gather up my dishes. Except for the shape, she wasn’t any raving beauty, but she had a sulky look to her, and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her.

‘Meet my wife.’

She didn’t look at me. I nodded at the Greek, gave my cigar a kind of wave, and that was all. She went out with the dishes, and so far as he and I were concerned, she hadn’t even been there. I left, then, but in five minutes I was back[.]

Turns out, the woman (Cora) is only with the Greek because he rescued her from an even more dismal life. Faced with Frank, she is no longer satisfied with the Greek. She begins to despise the Greek, and falls for Frank. Unable to take it anymore, because Frank can only offer her the life of a drifter if they just leave, they decide to kill the Greek.

Fun ensues.

There’s actually a dark comedy of errors for a bit. However, eventually, the Greek dies. They seem locked in for conviction and end up turning on each other, but then they’re suddenly free. However, the fact that they turned on each other can’t go away. It eats them from the inside:

‘I guess so. But I thought an awful lot, Frank. Last night. About you and me, and the movies, and why I flopped, and the hash house, and the road, and why you like it. We’re just two punks, Frank. God kissed us on the brow that night. He gave us all that two people can ever have. And we just weren’t the kind that could have it. We had all that love, and we just cracked up under it. It’s a big airplane engine, that takes you through the sky, right up to the top of the mountain. But when you put it in a Ford, it just shakes it to pieces. That’s what we are, Frank, a couple of Fords. God is up there laughing at us.’

I actually dug The Postman Always Rings Twice quite a bit. Minimalistic and gritty, the words are like punches to a speed bag. It isn’t horrifically complicated, but it get the job done and does it well. It’s also much more moving than I would have expected. The Postman Always Rings Twice makes me want to read more of Cain’s work.

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