#56 A Review of Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain

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Recently I had the pleasure of watching the amazing miniseries Mildred Pierce on HBO starring Kate Winslet.  I had previously seen the 1945 film adapted version of Cain’s book starring Joan Crawford.  However, the miniseries had quite a different tone and feel to it, piquing my interest in the story and prompting me to seek out Cain’s work.  I am extremely glad that I did, as his story shows us human compassion that goes to such extremes and asks for nothing in return.  It is an amazing story that will change the way you view a mother’s love for her daughter.

Mildred Pierce begins with a typical nuclear family in Great Depression-era Glendale, California.  Mildred Pierce discovers that her husband, Bert, has been unfaithful to her and she promptly kicks him out.  Accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle, Mildred is suddenly forced to accept that she must work to support herself and her daughters, Moire and Veda.  After a long struggle, Mildred finds a job as a waitress at a local diner and works tirelessly keep the family afloat.  Moire (known as “Ray”), the younger of the two daughters, is sympathetic to her mother’s plight and works to cheer the family up.  Veda, however, sees her mother as more of an embarrassment and shrugs her attentions off, even as Mildred brings in money that Veda spends thoughtlessly.  Sadly, Ray becomes seriously ill as Mildred is away on a spur of the moment trip with a new love interest named Monty.  As soon as Mildred returns upon hearing of Ray’s illness, Ray dies.  Vera blames Mildred squarely for Ray’s death, and begins to flirt with Monty blatantly in front of Mildred.  As Mildred becomes increasingly successful by opening a line of restaurants, Veda’s hatred of Mildred increases and her outlandish actions become too much for Mildred to handle.  Will Veda ever reconcile with Mildred?  Will something more develop between Veda and Monty?

Cain’s novel is a striking example of the hard-boiled American novel.  For those unfamiliar with the term “hard-boiled”, it’s representative of a writing style made popular in the 1930’s that depicts sex and violence in an unsympathetic and cold manner.  Veda is a prime example of this cold, unfeeling, spoiled, and heartless character type.  She has sex without feeling, using  it as a catalyst in her quest to be somebody worth something.  Because of Veda’s “high standards”, Mildred has an incessant need to impress her, and therefore becomes hard-boiled herself.  She has a sexual relationship with a man that she eventually marries (Monty), not because of love, but convenience.  She needs him for his social status, and he needs her for financial support.  There is nothing that’s really appealing about any of these characters, yet the way Cain describes them and writes them is completely gripping.  You become invested in this story with characters you can’t help but have strong feelings for, and find yourself mesmerized by their plights.

The novel is a great view into the lengths of what a person would do to impress someone they love.  It’s also a great discussion piece, one I highly recommend for any of you involved in book clubs.  You really have to tear apart the characters and their actions and delve into the deeper meaning of this work.  There is much more at stake here than a flawed mother-daughter relationship; it’s a microscopic view of human nature at its greediest.

5 out of 5 Stars

This is my fifteenth completed review for the Page to Screen Challenge

Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (2011)
Paperback, 304 pages

2 thoughts on “#56 A Review of Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain

  1. Having watched the original version of Mildred Pierce with Kim many years ago, it’s interesting to view her comments on the re-make and take a interest in the author. As Kim mentioned both versions have the same outcome and that’s how a Mother would do anything for her family. Whichever your choose book/movie, you will definitely enjoy.

  2. I reached your blog via Twitter (thanks for its suggestions!) and although I’ve only read this first review, I already like your style.

    Certainly, the story sounds great and I might give the HBO mini-series a try, However, I find this hard-bolied novels very difficult to deal with: I’m aware they depict reality and how hard it must have been for women like Mildred to make it trhough; but it may be too tragic.

    Would you include The Great Gatsby as a hard-boiled novel? It does not depic sex and/or violence explicity yet there is something violent and cruel behind the story.

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