Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain

mildred pierceMildred Pierce by James M. Cain

Originally published 1941

This edition: Vintage Books, 2011

I bought the book.

I picked this book to broaden my reading horizons and because I like the incentive of getting to watch a movie version or two. I’m pretty sure I haven’t read anything hardboiled from Cain, Hammett or Raymond Chandler, and I figured a book centering on a woman would be a little less annoying than others. I’m so far from annoyed: I really liked this odd novel which Wikipedia calls hardboiled and which I would call spare and quite bitter. It’s not a story that centers on a crime, though there is some crime.

This is a book about southern California during the Great Depression. The land dealings, the subdividing, the failing fortunes of Mildred’s husband and her lover Monte Bergaron, mudslides and more make it feel like a book about its time and place.

At the beginning of the book, Mildred splits from her husband the troubled real estate developer and has to figure out a way to support herself and her two daughters. I don’t come across books that go into such detail about money and running a business as this: there is lot of information about running a chicken-and-waffle place and a catering business. The story also follows Mildred and her romantic partners, and more importantly, her relationship with her daughter Veda. It’s probably the most dysfunctional mother and child pairing I’ve read about, and it’s quite gripping. You can tell this was written when psychoanalysis was in vogue. If you’re interested in the psychology of the book, I liked this post. 

The turnings of the plot weren’t the draw, though every third of the book seems to switch, which kept things interesting. It felt very open though Mildred held so much back: Cain was in her head.

I haven’t read anything quite like Mildred Pierce. It’s dark. It’s psychological. It’s about money and sex and thwarted ambition. It’s really quite remarkable.


8 thoughts on “Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain

  1. I really think it’s high time I read this one – I only remember watching the black and white film with Joan Crawford in the title role. Trying to combine motherhood and career sounds like a very modern concept (and yet is probably as old as the hills – except it wasn’t known as career in those days, simply work).

    • Enjoy, MarinaSofia! The ending of the Joan Crawford version is very different from the book, but if you want a faithful adaptation it’s the 5 part miniseries by Todd Haynes. (I’m not sure I can pay attention that long).

  2. This really is one of Cain’s classics, Rebecca, although it’s different to some of his other work, And yes, that is definitely a seriously dysfunctional relationship… It is a unique sort of read, isn’t it?

    • I’d heard it was good, but I didn’t quite know what kind of story it would be, and I’m not sure I’ve read anything like it. Great place to start reading Cain, I think.

  3. The Joan Crawford movie adaptation of Mildred Pierce is one of my husband’s favorite movies. I have been planning to read the book since I finally read another of Cain’s books, Double Indemnity. Your review encourages me to do that.

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