Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Postman Always Rings Twice - James M. Cain

After my realization that completing my 100 Best Novels challenge will take years, I have gotten a lot more serious about focusing my reading on the list.  In an effort to speed up the process, I have taken to downloading audio books.  I listen while I get ready in the mornings.  Nothing like doing your makeup to the words of classic literature.

When I saw that my library offered an audio version of The Postman Always Rings Twice read by Stanley Tucci, I simply could not pass that up.  Having Tucci's familiar voice as narrator kept me engaged, even early in the morning.  Picturing Tucci as main character Frank brought the story to life for me in a wonderful way.

One of the fun things about the challenge is that moment when you read a book you've always known existed, but never actually known anything about.  That's how I felt with Postman.  It's one of those books (and later movies) that echoes throughout popular culture.  I had heard the title countless times, but somehow I never had even the slightest idea about the plot.

Turns out, this scandalous little novel depicts a torrid affair and the subsequent plot to murder the unsuspecting spouse.  Frank, a drifter, meets Cora; Cora runs a small diner with her much older, Greek husband, Nick.  Frank and Cora immediately fall into an intensely physical relationship and begin scheming to remove Nick, "the Greek," from the picture.  

Their first attempt to murder him gets botched and he escapes with injury only and no recollection of their evil deeds.  For a while, the Frank and Cora go their separate ways, presumably scared off by their failure.  Fate intervenes, however, when Nick runs into Frank months later and invites him on a weekend getaway.  Cora and Frank see their chance to try again.

This time they succeed; Nick dies in a well-staged car crash.  Despite having thought of near every detail, the police catch up to Frank and Cora. Through some tricky lawyer business, Cora takes a plea deal and gets no jail time.   They return to the diner and attempt to start a life together.  No such luck.  After some disputes, Cora dies in a car accident herself while Nick is driving.  Nick, despite being innocent this time around, is convicted and writing his story from death row.

Postman, while short, has no shortage of drama.  It's a regular little soap opera.  I understand completely why the film versions were considered highly scandalous in their day.  James M. Cain displays talent for concise yet descriptive writing.  He gives no information you do not need.  His story has focus and clear intent (pun intended).  He cleans up neatly, leaving no room for speculation about his characters' fates.

The one puzzle which left me confounded remained the title. The book itself offers no clue as to its origin.  I had to take to the Internet for an answer.  My favorite explanation is as follows: Cain cited the source of his title as his own postman.  He spoke of the agony of waiting for the postman to return with news on his manuscripts.  Apparently, his postman always rang twice, signaling it was him.  The titular postman in Postman is actually either God or Death.  Frank has dodged his call before by escaping the death sentence for Nick's murder.  He cannot, however, escape the second call after Cora's death.  Maybe the source of the title, maybe not.  Either way, I like the story and symbolism.

Reading Postman and The Great Gatsby within a few weeks of each other sparked my excitement about this project.  I am beginning to reap the benefits of reading the works of such great authors.  I doubt I'll be able to enjoy beach-read fluff nearly as much after this challenge.  I think that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.  After all, as I heard recently, you will never have time to read everything you want to; why would you waste your time on an undeserving book?

Pages: 116
Date Completed: July, 2013

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