Frank Chambers is a drifter. He has the road in his bones, and he’s never going to be happy settling down. He isn’t anyone’s idea of a good catch: his money is easy come, easy go, and his women are the same. But when he stops by a roadside burger joint to cadge a meal, and he meets Cora Papadakis, he knows he’s found something worth staying put for… for a while.
This is the opening scenario of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. During the course of this fast, sexy, violent novel (it’s only 115 pages), Frank and Cora fall passionately in love and try to murder Cora’s husband, the owner of the restaurant. They fail once, but ultimately they succeed. They are threatened and turned against each other by the agents of the law, but their mad, desolating love triumphs over seemingly insurmountable obstacles… for a while.
I have to say, I loved this book. I’ve read some Raymond Chandler and I liked it, but he’s famous for his enormous plot holes, and in the end I got tired of trying to figure out the un-figure-outable. This book was neat, like a shot of whiskey is neat. It pulled no punches, and it never stopped moving. The language, though far from lyrical, was like a kind of rough poetry. About a year back, I saw the 1946 film adaptation, with Lana Turner and John Garfield; it fit seamlessly, as if James M. Cain had written the novel to be read aloud into the film. I’d love to hear this as an audiobook. I think it would come alive.
This book wouldn’t be for everyone. The relationship between Frank and Cora isn’t pretty, and it isn’t happy. Cain presents a kind of love I wouldn’t want in my own life. But by the end, you’re sure that it is love, twisted though it may be, and if Cain can make me see that, he’s given me what I read for: the experience of another human heart.