‘All-Night Pharmacy’ Is a Bisexual Neo-Noir About Addiction, Psychics, and Intergenerational Trauma

When most people think about women in the film noir genre, they think of the femme fatale — the seductive, conniving beauty. But this genre features another archetype: the bimbo. Often a minor character, the bimbo is sometimes a whiny hanger-on, sometimes a chaotic free-spirit. The femme fatale is in total control, the bimbo out of control. Especially in Los Angeles-based neo-noir, she’s there for local personality — to be on drugs while flashing her tits. Even when presented as evil, the femme fatale holds power and complexity. Our stories have not been as kind to the bimbo.

Ruth Madievsky’s novel All-Night Pharmacy feels like an L.A. neo-noir with a shift in perspective. Its main characters are the side characters of this genre; its central mystery hovering in the background uninvestigated.

Like the narrator of Rebecca, the narrator here remains unnamed. Even in this reconfigured narrative, she is not her main character. That sinkhole of emotion and energy is her older sister Debbie. It’s Debbie who bullies her and loves her and mocks her and entertains her and pushes her until the narrator matches her chaos. She goes from Debbie’s reluctant kid sidekick to a young woman brandishing a knife and becoming increasingly dependent on Ativan and Oxycontin. Then Debbie disappears.

At first, Debbie’s disappearance appears to be a cry for attention. But, as the months continue, the narrator wonders if Debbie is in danger or dead. She also wonders if the absence of her sister is an opportunity for healing or a dooming of her uncertain future.

While her most fraught relationship may be with Debbie, it’s clear that Debbie herself is a product of their larger family. Their mom is institutionalized due to severe mental illness and their grandmother is determined to pass along a hefty dose of Jewish generational trauma. When a woman with her own Jewish generational trauma tells the narrator that she too carries grief, the narrator writes, “I believed similar things had happened to my family in the same way I believed water was made of hydrogen and oxygen. That I accepted this did not mean I felt close to it or understood its relation to me.”

It’s fitting then that the narrator finds escape from her depression and her addiction through the arrival of Sasha, a woman with her own history of intergenerational Russian Jewish trauma. But this new friend isn’t simply a connection and crush for the narrator — Sasha is a psychic who says she’s meant to be the narrator’s amulet.

Sasha arrives at a point in the story where the natural plot progression would be for the narrator to contact a private detective to find her sister. Instead, through Sasha, she finds a more abstract route toward personal and familial healing.

Throughout the novel, Madievsky teases genre before returning to the interpersonal. But what she holds onto is the genre’s tone, the feeling of mystery. But, in this case, what needs to be solved is not a murder — it’s not even a missing sister or the truth of a psychic — it’s how to move past cultural and familial trauma.

In its portrait of Los Angeles, All-Night Pharmacy centers the bimbo, the psychic, the addict, the immigrant, the crazy person, the many different types of women. Here, the male private detective is the minor character who exists for intrigue and texture. It’s a reworking of a genre so radical and so human it ends up creating a whole new genre of its own. Meet the queer intergenerational mystery California noir — as written by Madievsky, it’s fantastic.

All-Night Pharmacy is now available in paperback.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 566 articles for us.

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