I can’t say I’m an expert on James M. Cain as a writer but when looking at his body of work The Cocktail Waitress is a book that fits with his on-going themes of strong women characters that want more from life, sometimes they use foolish means to get there but they have dreams of a better life. The Cocktail Waitress is a book that although uses this theme it also provides a quite cunning undertone that keeps the reader wondering are we even reading the true story or what the Waitress herself wants us to believe.
Taking the point of view of The Cocktail Waitress we meet her just as her first husband has died, with questions surrounding just who was to blame for the death we see her innocently struggling to rebuild her life and be able to settle into a life for her and her son. Taking the job of a the titular cocktail waitress she soon meets two men, one an angina suffering old man with deep pockets and a desire to marry her and the other a dashing young man who just wants to be loved. What these desires lead to is a love triangle that not only features seduction and deception but also death, with The Cocktail Waitress herself being deeply in the middle of all of the action.
Taking the viewpoint of The Cocktail Waitress herself this gives us a view on what she wants out of life, she just wants stability for her son and to be able to survive. For her of course this means to marry the richer man and manage to live a lie as long as she can control the situation. This duplicity is not something that is lost on you as you read the story and as events go out of control it sits in the back of your head that the narrator could in fact be lying to us and feeding her own version of events. She’s a manipulative character who will do anything she sees fit to succeed, which in ways harkens back to Cain’s other characters who show determination in succeeding.
After reading the story itself I continued on to the essay that is included which looks at the history behind the book, it actually adds quite an interesting perspective on it. The older character for example, the angina suffering business man bears a surprising resemblance to the writer himself. It’s quite interesting that this may be in fact why this character and his illness are handled so well. Cain understands how the attacks feel and puts realism into the events that take place, and he is able to put an interest edge to it. It’s also interesting historically for inclusions of drugs that as a reader we will know of because of the effect they had on people who took them. The book was written before these “events” of course so there is no knowledge shown of how infamous it was to become, but is still interesting.
It’s quite unique to be able to read books that were “lost” from the public for so long and were seen as legend. When they are found and we finally get to read them it’s almost a gift from a long gone writer who wanted to leave a memory for us to find at a later time. We will never know if James M Cain ever wanted this book to be released but it’s still interesting to enjoy his work and to know that even if he was not fully respected in his own time has come to be celebrated as a master of the crime genre.
The Cocktail Waitress is being released 21st September courtesy of Titan Books