April 2018: James M. Cain
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Okay, audio stuff aside, I really liked this book. Young housewife Mildred separates from her husband Bert, forcing her to find way to support herself and her two young daughters. After some trial and error, she ends up starting her own business. Along the way, she also makes and loses friends and romantic partners.
One of those things that was really great about this book was on the surface it doesn't sound like it's about much of anything. Unlike some of Cain's other works, it's not a gritty murder mystery. Instead, it's a domestic fiction, concerned with women's work and everyday life during the recovery from the Great Depression. Slap on a pink cover and make it by "Jane Cain," we'd probably dismiss it as trivial "chick lit" if we didn't investigate further. A lot of time and detail is spent on describing Mildred's clothes, how much money it costs for dinner, and so forth, yet it's done in a way that doesn't bog down the writing at all. Every word seems necessary; as >3 BookConcierge: says above, the writing is very tight.
Mildred Pierce herself is an interesting character; she is not a "Mary Sue" as she definitely has flaws, but I like her on the whole and see her as both realistic and at times, relatable. Other characters are for the most part also realistic, although they vary in their likability. For instance, Mrs. Gessler is a real hoot; Monty, I despise. And, of course, there's Veda, Mildred's elder daughter who is a real snob and yet Mildred would do anything for her. She's a compelling force in Mildred's life and story.
That leads me to a couple of spoiler-ish questions I have from the book:
-- So Ray
Although as I mentioned above, Cain's writing is very succinct, it is not perfect. Writing from a woman's perspective resulted in a couple of anomalies here and there for Cain. For instance, he occasionally chalked some things up to being "feminine intuition" (those weren't the exact words, but essentially), which I feel like is something male writers put in female characters' mouths but I never actually hear women say. There were also a few times when he referred to one of Mildred's children as either "it" or "the child," which seemed much more cold and impersonal than the character would be. Given the time period of the book though, I let this stuff slide.
On the whole, I quite enjoyed the book and would recommend it.
Here's is a lovely breakdown of differences between the book and the movie: https://aurorasginjoint.com/2012/09/03/mildred-pierce-novel-to-film/
Funny thing -- I thought I had previously seen only two film versions of Cain's works: The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. But immediately upon popping in Mildred Pierce and viewing the opening scene, I realized I had watched this movie once before (probably like 10 years ago). Now, I'm wondering if I've actually watched both of the other two or not....
Up next for me is the newer miniseries screen version of Mildred Pierce, which looks to be more true to the book.
Time permitting, I might also read another Cain novel (and see if I really did watch those other two movies!).