April 2018: James M. Cain

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April 2018: James M. Cain

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1sweetiegherkin
Gen 19, 2018, 5:47pm

In April, we'll be reading works by James M. Cain. What have you read by him before and/or what do you plan on reading this month?

For the record, Cain's book The Postman Always Rings Twice is on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.

2sweetiegherkin
Gen 19, 2018, 5:49pm

In the past I've seen some of the movies based on Cain's books, but I've never read any of them. I'm not sure yet where I'll start.

3BookConcierge
Gen 20, 2018, 8:20am

I loved The Postman Always Rings Twice! Also read Double Indemnity a couple of months ago. Very good, tight, writing.

I'll see if I can fit Mildred Pierce into the lineup for April.

4Yells
Gen 21, 2018, 7:08pm

I have read all three and they were pretty good!

5sweetiegherkin
Mar 25, 2018, 1:30pm

For my next audiobook, I picked up Mildred Pierce from the library. I plan to start it sometime this week.

6sweetiegherkin
Apr 1, 2018, 11:09am

No fooling, April is here! Let's break out those Cain novels and get discussing. :)

7sweetiegherkin
Apr 10, 2018, 9:35am

Last week, I finished up listening to the audiobook version of Mildred Pierce. The reader (Christine Williams) was sort of "eh." She spoke very fast and breathless, which bothered me a lot in the beginning but I eventually got used to it. Some of her voices, like Mrs. Gessler, were great, while others, like Mr. Treviso, were awful. Of bigger issue was that she didn't have a large enough range of distinct voices; so for instance, Mildred and Bert sounded exactly the same and therefore it began a little more difficult to parse out dialogue when the two were engaged in a conversation.

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 dies from a pimple? That part was a little unclear to me. Also, Mildred being thankful it was Ray who died and not Veda? That was one of those moments I neither liked her nor understood her.

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.

8sweetiegherkin
Apr 10, 2018, 9:48am

After reading the book, I decided to watch the classic 1945 film version of Mildred Pierce. The movie mostly follows the book (with some tweaks here and there for artistic reasons and time constraints) with one HUGE exception. Mildred's story is framed within a murder mystery, nowhere to be seen in the source material. It's a lovely film, but it's taken a huge liberty there to become a film noir instead of a domestic story.

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!).

9Yells
Apr 11, 2018, 11:16am

I won't be chiming in much this month as I will be on vacation for the next few weeks. Mildred Pierce was good but I found the other two much more interesting. I love your reviews!

10sweetiegherkin
Apr 12, 2018, 6:25pm

>9 Yells: Enjoy your vacation! I liked Mildred Pierce a lot so if the other two are even better, that's all the more reason for me to read them. :)

11Yells
Apr 12, 2018, 8:43pm

I just checked and gave them all 4 stars so I guess I liked them all! Enjoy :)

12sweetiegherkin
Maggio 2, 2018, 10:38am

Yesterday I finished watching the HBO miniseries version of Mildred Pierce. It was pretty good, very accurate to the book (obviously, some tweaks here and there, but no extraneous murders like in the 1945 film adaptation). I'd recommend it.