Modern Pulp Sep 13 2012
SERVICE WITHOUT A SMILE
James M. Cain explores the making of a femme fatale.


Years back there was a line in The Saturday Review of Literature that famously declared, “No one has ever stopped reading in the middle of one of Jim Cain’s books.” Well, we almost stopped reading Cain's newly published posthumous novel The Cocktail Waitress. The protagonist, divorcée Joan Medford, is forced to get a job as a bar server after her husband dies in an auto accident. As the cover art by Michael Koelsch depicts, the job requires her to show a lot of skin. She hates it, but soon learns it provides opportunities with the various regulars. The main thrust of the novel involves a basically good woman deciding to use any means at her disposal to wrest her child back from a predatory relative. To the old man she wants to marry for money (and to impress child custody authorities) she's a femme fatale. To the cop who knows she's fighting to win back her child she's a brave mother. To the young man who's spurned in favor of the rich man she's psychological torture.
 
Her multifaceted nature is interesting, but would work better if Cain spent less time inside her head. But that's where he lives for the entirety of the book, mansplaining his way in circles. You'd know the character was written by a man even if the book were anonymous. We don't claim to know how women think, but we know they don't think like this. Cain wrote many drafts of The Cocktail Waitress—which may be an indication he knew he was in over his head. But for all the issues with the book, we think it's a win—narrowly. And the ending, with its twist that may be lost on readers unless they remember Thalidomide, is Cain at his nasty best. Posthumous novels are rarely great, and authors with long careers are rarely as good at the end as at the beginning or middle. The Cocktail Waitress is both posthumous Cain and late Cain, so we can say without too much fear of contradiction that he's done much better. But Cain fans, we expect, will love this one anyway.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 25
1943—Mussolini Calls It Quits
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini steps down as head of the armed forces and the government. It soon becomes clear that Il Duce did not relinquish power voluntarily, but was forced to resign after former Fascist colleagues turned against him. He is later installed by Germany as leader of the Italian Social Republic in the north of the country, but is killed by partisans in 1945.
July 24
1915—Ship Capsizes on Lake Michigan
During an outing arranged by Western Electric Co. for its employees and their families, the passenger ship Eastland capsizes in Lake Michigan due to unequal weight distribution. 844 people die, including all the members of 22 different families.
1980—Peter Sellers Dies
British movie star Peter Sellers, whose roles in Dr. Strangelove, Being There and the Pink Panther films established him as the greatest comedic actor of his generation, dies of a heart attack at age fifty-four.
July 23
1984—Miss America Resigns
Vanessa Williams, who had been crowned Miss America and was the first African American woman to win the prize, resigns her title after Penthouse magazine purchases and slates for publication a series of lesbian-themed nudes Williams had posed for when she was younger. After resigning she files a $500 million lawsuit against Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione but later drops the suit.
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