As a modern woman, I had strong reactions to much of James M. Cain’s final story, The Cocktail Waitress. Author of such critically acclaimed novels-turned-films like Mildred Pierce, Double Indemnity & The Postman Always Rings Twice, Cain has a masterful understanding of the noir genre, and continues to be a staple in it even after his death. In fact, this book was completed and published 30yrs after the authors death with the help of editor and founder of Hard Case Crime books Charles Ardai. One of the hallmarks of Cain is his wonderful way of writing women. Which is where my issues come into play.
In The Cocktail Waitress, I was struck by how human Joan Medford, our protagonist, was. In fact, I was annoyed at her for being so. I’m not sure why this bothered me, but Medford was a woman of many facets. She wasn’t a superhero, she wasn’t a damsel in distress, she was pretty normal, aside from the fact that she was smokin’ hot. Really, she was all too real and I found myself yelling at her, understanding her and I guess relating to her. It was annoying.
It’s my fault, really. I have a tendency to want all my women to be superheros, compensation for all the shitty books and shitty movies portraying women as fragile, useless & for decorative purposes only. I didn’t know what to do with myself when I read a book about a woman, in the woman’s voice, being pretty normal. She makes stupid decisions! She sacrifices her well being/dignity/sanity for the sake of another! She’s smart and she’s cunning and she’s manipulative! She…may or may not being a murderer! Her reaction to the world around her can be so honest it is downright brutal. One moment I think ‘Cain really thinks this about women?’ and the next I’m lamenting that I’ve made some of the same choices that Joan did, albeit in different circumstances.
I won’t get into the finer plot points here. Mainly because I think too much information about anything just ruins the story. What you need to know is Joan is hard up, she’s a single mom and she’s poor as shit. What else can a woman do but use her assets to get ahead? So she does everything and nothing most women would do in this situation and you just fall in love with her, warts and great boobs and all. There’s murder, there’s bad life choices and there’s sex. The Lauren Approved Trifecta! I’ll say this isn’t a perfect book. I raised my eyebrows a few times, shook my head at others, but overall this was a naughty number that was a lot of fun to read. If you are looking for a quick, delightfully pulpy read, pic this one up.