Rebecca’s #CBR4 Review #46: Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain
Mildred Pierce is a straightforward, somewhat pulpy novel about a young divorced woman in the 30’s who manages to start a thriving restaurant business during a depression – but the real story is about her relationship to her eldest daughter, Veda (described on the book jacket as ‘monstrous’), a snobby asshole who Mildred sees as refined, containing some indefinable quality that Mildred believes will lead Veda to success – and Mildred is determined to give her the things that she wants.
Cain tells the story in simple language, always explaining Mildred’s inner thoughts clearly and precisely. He spells things out explicitly, but it never seems like a flaw; it gets the story moving forward and paints a clear picture of Mildred as a character. She is determined, smart, and unsentimental; she could be an absolute success in her chosen business were it not for Veda, and for her lover Monty Beragon.
The interesting thing about the novel is that Mildred’s drive to impress Veda, her overwhelming desire not to embarrass her awful daughter by making the money that buys her food as a waitress, is what makes her actually try to do something more; but it also leads to some very poor decisions, made with Monty in mind, but still with Veda as the ultimate goal. Seriously, this mother-daughter relationship is pretty fucked up, and even when Mildred kicks her out, she can’t help but go looking for her. It takes Mildred from a tough-as-nails mother to a tragic figure, and that is what makes the novel truly memorable.