Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Hungry Enough" by Cornelia Reed

What I like about a book or story title is the two different meanings it delivers. When you buy a book or read a story, the title means one thing. That is, a group of words, intended to illicit a reaction in the potential buyer’s mind, enough to buy the book or read the story. The second meaning comes after you’ve completed the story. Then, you can look back on the title and see a whole different meaning. That’s what happens when you read Cornelia Reed’s short story “Hungry Enough.”

The story opens with Julia being driven by her friend, Kay, back to Kay’s mansion in southern California. They’ve had too many gins over lunch and Kay wants to show Julia some clothes she’s purchased for her. You see, both women are life-long friends and they came out to California in the late 1950s to find stardom and a husband. Kay’s found the latter in the person of Kenneth, a rich producer. Julia small credit is as an ingĂ©nue on the television show “Perry Mason.” Kay has money to spare and she seems to like to spare it on Julia.

When they get to Kay’s house, Julia discovers that Kenneth is dead. Apparently, the cables that suspended a large glass slab over the master bed have snapped and poor Kenneth got it in the face. Julia calls her boss, a PI, and he comes to take care of the mess.

Where the title of the book comes in is in a bit of dialogue the two women have on the way to the mansion. Kay laments Julia’s husbandless status as a way not to talk about the dashing of her own dreams of fame and stardom. They talk about the younger women who constantly arrive in Hollywood via Greyhound buses and how pretty they are.
“I’m better looking.” [Kay says]
“Fairest one of all,” I said. “But you aren’t hungry enough. You never were.”
Again, this one line in the story has more than one meaning. It’s been established that Kay is a milquetoast when it comes to her husband. He lavishes her with gifts and material possessions but she’s not happy, especially after the one night when she discovered what Kenneth really used the suspended glass slab for. And you realize her “hunger” can be interpreted in more than one way. Wonderful way to be subtle while still allowing the double meaning to cut you. By the end of the story—which has a great last line—you’re just smiling and nodding your head.

There’s also a little element of “The Sixth Sense” to this story. When you get to the end, read it again and you’ll see all the signposts of the eventual outcome—unless you saw them the first time. I didn’t and that second time was just as fun.

This is the third story I’ve read from A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir, published by Busted Flush Press, and edited by Megan Abbott. This story has been nominated for the 2008 Shamus Award. The winners will be announced 10 October 2008.


pattinase (abbott) said...

She's got style galore, doesn't she? And supposed to be more fun than the women she writes about.

Chris said...

This story sounds interesting. Makes me want to pick up this anthology. Unfortunately, my library doesn't have it!