Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lost Novel by James M. Cain Discovered

The Guardian reports that The Cocktail Waitress by James M. Cain is set for publication next year.

Charles Ardai, founder of American publisher Hard Case Crime, was alerted to its existence by the author Max Allan Collins, and has spent the last nine years tracking down the original manuscript and securing rights in the novel. He called his discovery "like finding a lost manuscript by Hemingway or a lost score by Gershwin – that's how big a deal this is".

Cain is the author of classic noir crime novels including Mildred Pierce, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity.  Cain, together with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, "is universally considered one of the three greatest writers of noir crime fiction who ever lived," said Ardai. The Cocktail Waitress is "the Holy Grail" for crime fans, he added.

Narrated by the widow Joan Medford, who meets two new men in the cocktail bar where she is working – a "handsome young schemer", and a wealthy older man she marries. "Why am I taping this?" Joan says. "It's in the hope of getting it printed to clear my name of the charges made against me … of being a femme fatale who knew ways of killing a husband so slick they couldn't be proved. Unfortunately, they cannot be disproved either … All I know to do is to tell it and tell it all, including some things no woman would willingly tell … "

Cain himself said in a 1976 interview that "in my stories there's usually stuff that you wouldn't think any human being would tell at all". "I've just finished a book called The Cocktail Waitress, where the girl tells her story, and there's some pretty intimate stuff," the author said. "This girl, like most women, is very reticent about some things – you know, the sex scenes, where she spent the night with a guy. I had her tell enough so that what happened was clear and, at the same time, not go into details. Once she lingered with a sex scene, as if she wanted to tell it."

Cain also mentioned The Cocktail Waitress in an interview with John McAleer, collected in the recently published Packed and Loaded: Conversations with James M Cain, in which he called it "a pretty good lively story" but said he was working through the plot again. "I made a mistake on the story, thinking that my lovers were this woman and her little boy – little three-year-old boy – that figured as her motivation for her job in the cocktail bar that she had to pay for his board, with a sister-in-law that she had, after her husband – this woman's brother – got killed, and it turned out I made a mistake. They were not the real lovers. The real lovers in the story were this man that came in – the very first day a man came in and she fell for him somewhat. And he for her, but … I had her using him as a means to an end. Using him as a means of having a home for this child that she had. Where he was the big emotional fact in her life, and so the story has to be done over. It is half done over already."

Hard Case Crime said that handwritten notes and edits appear in the margins of numerous pages of the manuscript, and that Cain was working on revisions until close to the end of his life. Ardai told the New York Times that he is currently trying to reconcile different versions of the ending left by Cain, and to decipher some of the notes. "He wasn't a doctor, but he wrote like one," said the publisher. "With a magnifying glass, I can figure it out.


J.P. Hansen said...

Great news! This will be so fun to read. It's little like finding the classic BILLY BUDD in Melville's desk drawer after his death.

Clark Lohr said...

"Great news!" Motion seconded. Anybody ever read the Paris Review interview with James M. Cain? I think he was eighty at the time. He said he'd never seen the films made from his books. People had asked him,"Don't you want to know what they've done to your book?" and he'd replied, "They haven't done anything to my book,it's right there on the shelf."

Janet Rudolph said...

Clark, that's fabulous!