Although famous for skillful thrillers like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain was at heart a higher-toned sort of writer than his output might have suggested. A onetime managing editor of the New Yorker, he left for California and a different style of writing. Although his novels were full-on potboilers about cynical but ultimately foolish men and the women who dragged them into murder, Cain had the heart of a true literati. Unlike his contemporary Raymond Chandler, though (who often appeared to think himself above what he wrote), Cain seemed more at home bridging the two worlds.
In this Paris Review interview, published not long after his death in 1977, Cain holds forth on a great number of topics, tossing off the bon mots like confetti. To wit:
- New York is not even a city, it’s a congerie of rotten villages.
- Editorials (we called them idiotorials) were written by trained seals whose only qualifications were that they be in favor of motherhood and against the man-eating shark.
- I slip into the Vulgate every once in a while—an affectation I only half-understand. There I am speaking impeccable English and suddenly I lingo it up.
- I tried to write the Great American Novel, and wrote three of them, none of them any good.
- I just don’t like movies. People tell me, don’t you care what they’ve done to your book? I tell them, they haven’t done anything to my book. It’s right there on the shelf. They paid me and that’s the end of it.
The military has ever been one of the structural supports of much American science fiction. Whether they’re heroically battling off alien invaders or corrupting scientific research for their nefarious and war-mongering needs, the boys in green have a long history in the genre.
That’s why it’s particularly interesting whenever you run across a science-fiction writer who actually served in the military and then brought that sensibility to their writing. The responses can vary widely, from the jingoistic Reagan-era militarism of Jerry Pournelle to the ironic action of David Drake to the highly satiric and jaundiced Kurt Vonnegut.
Over at i09, Charlie Jane Anders does a superb job of studying all of the ways these authors brought their experience of war to bear in their fiction, as well as other fantasy and sci-fi authors who were less vocal about their military service (from Tolkien to Clarke).
It’s a shame that Michael Winterbottom thought to set his modernized Tess of the d’Urbervilles in India instead of in England, or another Western nation. This isn’t because he doesn’t know how to use South Asia as a setting (he does) or because today’s India doesn’t provide a highly relevant analogy for many of the class issues in Thomas Hardy’s novel (it does). But by shifting Hardy’s story from England 1891 to a developing nation, it lets viewers off the hook…
Trishna is playing now in limited release, and while it definitely has its faults is still an undeniably gorgeous and effective romantic melodrama of the kind that don’t seem to get made that much anymore. My review is PopMatters.