By Sinclair Smith.
Paula has blagged her way into a job at Trixie’s Dog House diner, despite never having waitressed before. But she has a lot more on her plate than just learning the ropes of fast-food service. She’s failing English due to a daydreaming affliction; she’s made no friends since moving schools part way through her junior year; and she’s managed to alienate the most popular girl in her class – Coralynn – by stealing her boyfriend, Garth. As if this wasn’t enough, someone has made Paula the target of their practical jokes: leaving her threatening messages on checks, making creepy late-night phone calls, slashing her waitress uniform, and tinkering with her car.
Paula immediately points her finger at Coralynn, but also has nagging suspicions about her fellow waitresses Cookie and Virgilia, as well as Trixie – the red beehived, eccentric owner of the Dog House. Then Paula discovers there used to be another hang-out in town – one which closed down when a high school student died after eating there: a victim of poisoning, whose murderer has never been caught. Suddenly the ‘practical jokes’ have a more sinister implication, and as they escalate, Paula finds herself in serious danger.
The Waitress is a really short Point Horror (just 130 pages) and we’re thrust right into the action from the start. Characters’ personalities are conveyed in a couple of adjectives and Paula is a victim of harassment from her very first day on the job. It’s all a bit much to take in, and it’s difficult to feel invested in her story. Also, such is the barrage of abuse that Paula is subjected to in consequence of her new job, it is baffling that she never once considers quitting, even though we’re told her mum has a high-powered job; we never see her spend money on anything; and she’s struggling in school…
The story improves considerably when we reach the finale, but it’s an arduous journey getting there.
The relentless ‘pranks’ are trivial and silly, but the finale is a horror showcase: violence, peril, and serious threat abound. The whirr of an electric slicing machine; the whoosh of flames flaring up from the stove; the frenzied smashing of piles of crockery; the super-human strength of the maniac behind the mayhem… combine to create an atmosphere of terror. There’s also a pleasing nod to a well-known urban legend, just before the final showdown. The Waitress is unusual amongst PHs in that it is scarier than it is entertaining, as its fear factor rating attests.