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.