9 July 2013

James M. Cain: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)

The 1927 murder of Albert Snyder by his wife Ruth and her lover Henry Judd, as a result of which both were convicted and executed, is a clear influence on James M. Cain's Double Indemnity (1943). It was also a minor influence behind Cain's earlier The Postman Also Rings Twice, which was banned in Boston due to the sex and violence in it.

The Postman Always Rings Twice is narrated by Frank Chambers, an itinerant who finds little difficulty insinuating his way into the the Papadakises' lives: Nick the Greek runs a rural Californian diner and needs a worker, and his american wife Cora needs another life.

Cora is a femme fatale and the 24-year-old Frank – who tells his story in a rather paradoxical mixture of slangy casualness and doomladen nerviness – is soon (disturbingly) falling for her smell, and it's obvious he doesn't mean perfume: he gives her a literal lovebite that draws a deal of blood from her lip – before taking her off to bed.

The murder of Frank is inevitable, although many events in this short novel are by no means predictable. But then, for me it's not the plot so much that's striking, but the way this tale – almost eighty years old – has a thoroughly modern feel to it. I think it's because there's so much suggestion and no compromising euphemistic elements.

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