Re: RARA-AVIS: Surprise Endings (was "Unreliable narrator")

From: Al Guthrie (
Date: 13 Nov 2005

----- Original Message ----- From: "Karin Montin" <>
> No racism in Cain? The slurs against Mexicans and the Greek café ¯wner
> (husband) bothered me when I read the book a few years ago. Cora is
> insistent that she's not a "Mex," that she's white, and the Greek is
> called greasy over and over.

Yep, this was my response too. Cain's got a real grease fixation in POSTMAN. A quick flick through and I found these: Cora (on Greeks): "I can't have no greasy Greek child, Frank...The only one I can have a child by is you." Frank (on Mexicans): "Those Mexican women, they all got big hips and bum legs and breasts up under their chin and yellow skin and hair that looks like it had bacon fat on it...They all got white teeth, you've got to hand that to them."

>These remarks serve to build the characters, yet our sympathies are
>supposed to lie with the narrator, at least at the beginning.

Not for me. My sympathies definitely lie with Nick, the husband. Frank and Cora are not nice people, but nice people rarely make engaging or realistic noir protagonists. I may be mistaken, but I doubt contemporary readers of Cain would have seen in Cora or Frank's racial slurs anything out of the ordinary. If they did, God help them if they read James Ross's THEY DON'T DANCE MUCH a few years later. What is remarkable (and, significantly, intriguing) about the racism in POSTMAN is that Cora's remarks are directed at her husband. As for Frank's comment on Mexican women, the irony, as far as I can recall, is that despite her protestations to the contrary, Cora's part-Mexican.

> In my humble opinion, The Postman Always Rings Twice is vastly overrated.
> Cain, unlike Agatha Christie, was a two-hit wonder. I know he wrote more
> but everyone thinks immediately of Postman and Double Indemnity.

Not everyone, Karin. I also think of Serenade, The Butterfly, Past All Dishonor and Sinful Woman. Some people will also think of Mildred Pierce, maybe because of that movie. But I'm not sure of your point here. Cain's limited output certainly doesn't make the prolific Agatha Christie a better or more impressive writer, just makes Christie more prolific. If number of
'hits' is significant, Harper Lee's not even at the races. In any case, I don't see how any comparison between the character-driven, non-investigate noir novels of James Cain and the plot-driven, puzzle-solving investigative
'cosies' of Agatha Christie is ever going to be relevant or fair. They're too different. Might as well try comparing Guinness and Coke.

I don't know if Cain is overrated (not by Chandler, certainly, who couldn't stand him). But I do think he's one of the most influential crime writers of all time and one of the very few whose influence spread beyond the genre
(although some might argue that Camus' THE OUTSIDER is noir).


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 13 Nov 2005 EST