Some time ago I read an interview with James M. Cain in Paris Review Interviews. I had no idea who he was but of course I had heard of ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’. There was a book, there were films. I knew all about it. Here is the storyline as I saw it: it’s some sort of erotic crime thing. A woman lives alone, a guy comes to the door, says he is a postman, she lets him in, he rapes her and kills her but it’s all very ambiguous actually. Anyway, she should’ve known he wasn’t a postman because the postman always rings twice and this guy only rung once, get it?
Yeah. It turns out there aren’t any postmen in this book and nobody rings (twice or otherwise). And while I believe my version is pretty good, Cain’s might be a little better. To cut a short story even shorter, it’s a tale about love, sex and murder. And different feline species. We have a cat which gets electrocuted, we have wild pumas and we have Cora, the self-proclaimed hellcat.
Frank Chambers was just passing by because that was what he did in life – pass by. He would go on with his life of a rolling stone, get arrested every now and then, maybe get an odd job here and there, if it weren’t for Cora, the wife of a Greek owner of a diner in the middle of nowhere. More sophisticated men wouldn’t look at her twice, but to men like Frank Chambers Cora is the sort of woman you’d kill for. You know, the fire of his loins and the cause of his downfall.
Cain knows how to write a story without resorting to flowery descriptions or linguistic acrobatics. His writing is sparse and of no-frills kind but it’s hypnotically rhythmic. It’s a shame that creative writing courses discourage people from writing like that anymore. Many contemporary writers would probably drown this story in all the unnecessary thus robbing it of its emotional immediacy.
By the way, if you like I can happily tell you the storyline of any other book I haven’t read, like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ or ‘The Sound and the Fury’ or ‘The Blind Assassin’. I have them all figured out.