Sunday, March 27, 2011

MIILDRED PIERCE


I finished this in time for the HBO series tonight. I found it a most surprising book. Certainly surprising in that is comes from the author of DOUBLE INDEMNITY and THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. Certainly surprising to be written by a man.

If you've never read it, there's no crime in the story. It's the story of a woman who loved her daughter too much. So much that she allowed this love to deprive her of every other relationship and the success she had earned.

That still was not the most surprising aspect to me. What fascinated me was the detail Cain provided for what was necessary to begin a restaurant business in the thirties, what was necessary to furnish a house, how mortgages worked, what people wore, How loans were arranged. what was necessary to begin a career as a waitress, a pianist, a singer. The detail drove the plot.

And perhaps the story interested me less than those details. I didn't particularly like Mildred. Was I meant to? None of the characters were likable really. Despite the lack of a crime, it still seemed like noir to me. If noir looks at people near the bottom that manage to fall still further, this is noir. There are few joyous moments in MILDRED PIERCE and yet unlike JANE EYRE (also on my mind lately), I seldom felt sorry for Mildred. And she has several really bad moments that made her hard to forgive.

It was different from any book I've ever read. Have you read it? What did you think?

And here is Megan's much more scholarly and lush take on it.

20 comments:

David Cranmer said...

I wasn't a big fan of the plot but love the man's writing. INDEMNITY and his short stories are where Cain rules.

George said...

You're right about MILDRED PIERCE capturing life in those times down to the nitty-gritty details. Mildred's obsessive love for her daughter (who I found loathsome) counteracts any of the successes Mildred achieves in business.

Deb said...

Read MILDRED PIERCE after many viewings of the original movie and was also surprised that there is no real "crime" in the book. Apparently, Cain agonized about how he was going to work the ending of the book so that (SPOILER) Veda essentially waltzes out of her mother's life with everything. The movie cut all that out and focused on Veda getting her just desserts--after Mildred tries and fails to save her.

I think if I'd read the book without having seen the Joan Crawford movie so many times and without knowing that Cain also wrote POSTMAN and DOUBLE INDEMNITY, I would have been more impressed and more patient with the incredible amount of day-to-day detail in the book, but I have to say that I find it the least successful of all of Cain's work. Perhaps because I was looking for a noir story and I got a domestic drama.

BTW, the original "Mildred Pierce" was on TCM last night and one of my younger kids, who had never seen it before, now says it's her favorite movie ever and also that she never knew Joan Crawford was so beautiful.

Deb said...

One more comment--I just flipped through my book journal to see if I wrote anything about MILDRED PIERCE when I read it and here's what I wrote: "There's an element of almost sexual love in Mildred's feelings for Veda, which I found very off-putting."

I hadn't even remembered that aspect of the book, but now I do and think that also might have been what made the book unpalatable for me. (Also, as a mother, I hated the fact that Mildred was glad that her other child had died and not Veda. Could not bear to even think about such a thing.)

Margot Kinberg said...

Indemnity and Postman were better, in my opinion, but I think that's because I liked their structure better. And it is really hard to have sympathy for any of the characters in Mildred Pierce...

pattinase (abbott) said...

I've never seen the Crawford movie, never been a fan of hers. Although when I flipped by it too last night, I was tempted.
Yes, Deb, there is sexuality in her feeling for her daughter. I saw it too.
And it was loathsome, George. I wanted to know more about her childhood to understand this. Did she love Veda for anything more than her beauty and talent. I am not sure.
I may not have loved the book but I certainly found it fascinating.

George said...

Your reactions to Cain's MILDRED PIERCE were similar to mine, Patti. Even with unsympathetic characters, Cain makes the story compelling.

Anonymous said...

No I haven't read it but your review makes it more likely. The things you found interesting are exactly what I'm interested in reading.

If you read mysteries you can often get a good sense of what contemporary life was like at the time the book was written. Books written during the Blitz and blackouts of WWII often did this quite well. It's that rather than the character of Mildred that I think would interest me, and your review backs that up.

Thanks.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Jeff-the original movie changed the setting to post World War 2, which made no sense. It is set during the depression, which makes perfect sense for the struggles you watch. For what happens to many of the supporting cast.

Naomi Johnson said...

I didn't like Mildred of the book, no. What a warped soul. I found all the detail a bit tedious.

Still, even though I usually can't abide Joan Crawford and even though H'wood changed the ending by adding a crime, the movie is terrific.

Yvette said...

Never read it, Patti. But I did read MILDRED PIERCED by Stuart Kaminsky. Ha!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I bet it was a lot more laughs.

Anonymous said...

It's been suggested that Mildred Pierce's daughter is a classic borderline personality, a mental disorder of the utmost fascination for me, and "kissin' cousin to narcisisstic personality. You;ve never met more selfish, grasping, soul-destroying people than these types, and they show up over and over in classic literature as well as modern and post-modern stories. We will always have these types with us and it's good to know the signs and symptoms to beat a hasty retreat, or, in the case of a family member, to get treatment and know how to "be prepared."
Anonymous-9
James M. Cain fan

pattinase (abbott) said...

I would also posit that Mildred Pierce has a disorder herself. She is unable to mourn the death of one daughter because she is so relived it's not the other. She cannot concentrate on anyone other than her. Perhaps the one disorder created the other.

Cap'n Bob said...

The little bitch getting her comeuppance in the movie was the best part. If that's not in the book I wouldn't care to read it.

Deb said...

Stay away from the book, Cap'n. (SPOILER) Veda gets away with everything: all her mother's money and property--and Monty, to boot.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And that's the truth.

Erik Donald France said...

Cool beans. I like those kinds of details.

Julia Madeleine said...

I found the book fascinating as well, all the details of life in that era. I also enjoyed the character of Mildred. She tried so hard to be an independent determined woman, and yet her need to win her daughter's approval and always falling short was, although obsessive, heartbreaking too.

I happen to love Joan Crawford so the movie for me was fantastic. They did start the movie off with a bang, literally, with a shooting. So I suppose this was to make it more of a mystery/thriller since it was missing in the book. Overall, loved both the book and the movie.

pattinase (abbott) said...

As soon as the HBO series ends, I will rent the movie.