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.
October 16
1964—China Detonates Nuke
At the Lop Nur test site located between the Taklamakan and Kuruktag deserts, the People's Republic of China detonates its first nuclear weapon, codenamed 596 after the month of June 1959, which is when the program was initiated.
1996—Handgun Ban in the UK
In response to a mass shooting in Dunblane, Scotland that kills 16 children, the British Conservative government announces a law to ban all handguns, with the exception .22 caliber target pistols. When Labor takes power several months later, they extend the ban to all handguns.
October 15
1945—Laval Executed
Pierre Laval, who was the premier of Vichy, France, which had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, is shot by a firing squad for treason. In subsequent years it emerges that Laval may have considered himself a patriot whose goal was to publicly submit to the Germans while doing everything possible behind the scenes to thwart them. In at least one respect he may have succeeded: fifty percent of French Jews survived the war, whereas in other territories about ninety percent perished.
1966—Black Panthers Form
In the U.S., in Oakland, California, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale form the Black Panther political party. The Panthers are active in American politics throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but eventually legal troubles combined with a schism over the direction of the party lead to its dissolution.
October 14
1962—Cuban Missile Crisis Begins
A U-2 spy plane flight over the island of Cuba produces photographs of Soviet nuclear missiles being installed. Though American missiles have been installed near Russia, the U.S. decides that no such weapons will be tolerated in Cuba. The resultant standoff brings the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of war. The crisis finally ends with a secret deal in which the U.S. removes its missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets removing the Cuban weapons.
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