Jack's Reviews > The Postman Always Rings Twice/Double Indemnity

The Postman Always Rings Twice/Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
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Nov 10, 10

bookshelves: jackrecommends
Read in November, 2010

** spoiler alert **
Bell Out of Order: Please Knock

Author James M. Cain walks a tightrope. The heart of this story shouldn’t be beating; it’s out of order. Nothing should work here. How does a writer maintain readers’ interests in a book narrated by an immoral man who makes not just bad choices, but wicked ones, and makes them consistently like an old record skipping ever backward replaying the same evil groove? Cain’s anti-hero, Frank Chambers is such a man and Cain doesn’t waste time showing it. By page two, he shows all is not square with Frank. From the moment Frank sees Cora Papadakis he confesses “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.”
Frank explains that he rambles from place to place and always has. And the only reason he stays on to work for Cora’s Greek-American husband Nick was because “I wanted that woman so bad I couldn’t even keep anything on my stomach.” And Frank manipulates her and her husband to get what he wants. In his very first conversation with Cora, Frank verbally accosts her and boasts, “I had what I wanted. I had socked one under her guard, socked it in deep, so it hurt.” And Frank combines physical rough stuff with the verbal, “I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.”
All through the the very first chapter, Frank flaunts his reprehensibility. But Cain gives him a sense of humor, and a formidable foil in Cora, whose morality quickly shrinks until the difference between the two is miniscule. There is an engaging playfulness in Frank. He angers Cora, and explains, “She was snarling like a cougar. I liked that.” Their clandestine relationship exists in violence and wanton sexuality. When Nick lies in the hospital after murder attempt number one fails, Cora wants to open the diner and Frank wants more sex. Cora resists. “Come here before I sock you” Frank tells her, and she replies “You nut.” The diner doesn’t get opened. When they talk of running off together, Cora suggests they take the car. But Frank’s street smarts mingled with crusty humor delivers “Stealing a man’s wife, that’s nothing, but stealing his car, that’s larceny.” In the aftermath of their successful attempt to kill Nick, and as they prepare to roll the car down an embankment with Frank and the now dead Nick in it, Frank’s libidoed steam rises, “Hell could have opened up for me and it wouldn’t have made any difference. I had to have her, if I hung for it. I had her."
Cain adds another element to make this inhuman man more human. Frank and Cora fall in love. Cain makes their attempts to be together not just amoral greedy maneuvering, but efforts born of love, to become a couple and spend their lives with each other. Rough, tough Frank can even wax poetic, “Her eyes were shining up at me like two blue stars. It was like being in a church.”
As things begin to fall apart, Frank becomes philosophical, “We’re chained to each other, Cora. We thought we were on top of a mountain. That wasn’t it. It’s on top of us and that’s where it’s been ever since that night…I love you, Cora. But love, when you get fear in it, it’s not love anymore. It’s hate.”
Despite Frank’s lack of morality, there lies something underneath that offers a glimpse of a man who is not so different from every man. He makes all of the wrong choices, the ones some of us might fleetingly consider, but never seriously. And he ultimately pays for them. In Postman, Cain offers a Bizzaro version of Romeo and Juliet, and he gives Frank the final word. Unsure that any sane reader would even reach this point in his tale, Frank offers, “Father McConnell says prayers help. If you’ve got this far, send one up for me, and Cora, and make it that we’re together, wherever it is.”

It's a comment on then-and-now cultural evolution that this book was banned in many places as smut when it was released in 1934. And Cain and his book were placed on trial in Boston in a celebrated "Inherit the Wind"-like kangaroo trial. If one reads Postman very carefully, one will find the words "bare breasts." OH MY!
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