James M. Cain and ‘Sexological Advertiser’

If ever there was a language of L.A., a language in which each noun, common or proper, is localized, dated, and cast in a Hollywood movie, it is the language of James M. Cain. And if Cain’s L.A. had a voice, she would sound like Christine Williams. She doesn’t sing, but she could be singing; she doesn’t hawk her words, but she could be a crier of the news that books hold; she doesn’t broadcast, but she could be advertising baby food or soap; or she could be doing all of these things. In her voice vibrates the radio hysteria of the 1920s, showy, fluttery, stagy, but fundamentally sweet and pure and hopeful. Indeed, it is the voice of a big country, of big spaces, with lots of land to cross, lots of square footage. Even indoors.

And so when Cain describes L.A., he talks about Glendale. The overspill. The life just outside the borders, looking in. As if all L.A. was really outside L.A., looking in.

The bathroom that he now whistled in was a utile jewel: it was in green tile and white tile, it was as clean as an operating room, everything was in its proper place and everything worked.

And before there were California girls, there were California women. They wore aprons over dresses, slips and stockings, they walked on pumps and pinned up their hair, even at home. They decorated cakes and cooked proper dinners, from scratch. They knew how to run a household and how to save money and how to mend things that broke. They had names like Mildred. And husbands like Pierce.