The Postman Always Rings Twice
Although it can manifest as physical sluggishness – like its heavy-limbed cousin, lethargy – apathy is essentially a mental condition, characterised by an attitude of indifference towards outcomes, both for oneself and the world at large. Its cure, however, is best tackled by addressing the physical sluggishness first, thus further distinguishing it from its other near relations, pessimism and existential angst, which require an overhaul of the mind. This is because apathy is also characterised by a suppression of positive emotions and to re-engage them, and re-kindle the desire for things to turn out well, one has to stir up the sediment at the bottom of the too-sedentary soul.
It’s not that it all ends well for Frank Chambers, the itinerant chancer and jailbreaker in James M Cain’s 1934 masterpiece The Postman Always Rings Twice. Indeed if one was to adopt his philosophy of life, you’d end up (as he does) with a price on your head and several angry women in hot pursuit. But the novel is written with such rattling exuberance that it’s impossible to read without becoming physically buzzed. By the end, you’ll be up and about with a bounce in your step, throwing caution to the wind in your determination to have a hand in fate, setting you on a more spontaneous and proactive – if slightly reckless – new tack.
From the moment Frank Chambers is thrown off the hay truck, the story is up and running. Within three pages he’s swindled the honest owner of the Twin Oaks Tavern into fixing him a colossal breakfast (orange juice, cornflakes, fried eggs, bacon, enchilada, flapjacks and coffee, if you’re interested), got himself hired as a mechanic, and set covetous won’t-take-no-for-an-answer eyes on Cora, the tavernowner’s sullenly sexy wife. One thing leads to another – and then another – and Cain does a splendid job of keeping up with Frank, capturing his immoral inability to say no in short, snappy sentences laced with slang. The combination of story and style hits you like a triple espresso, and at only a little over a hundred pages, it’s also a very quick fix. Rip through it in an afternoon, then jack your apathy onto your back and chuck it out on the street as you go. You’ll be inspired by Frank’s irrepressible interest in each new moment – even when things aren’t going so well – and determined not to blow, as he does, the opportunities that arise.