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TOP 500 REVIEWERon August 4, 2013
Having loved the film, I looked forward to reading this classic novel upon which the film was based. I must say, just as the movie kept me riveted to the screen, the book likewise kept me riveted to its pages. Darker and even more compelling than the film, the author tells the story of Mildred Pierce, a divorcee with two children who is caught in the throes of the depression of the 1930s but manages to make something of herself.

Professionally successful, Mildred has a talent for picking the wrong men and an irrational devotion to her eldest daughter, Veda, who is morally twisted and totally monstrous. Unfortunately, Mildred does not see her daughter for what she truly is, until it is too late.

Masterfully written and thematically complex, the writing is intense, hard-boiled, and, though redolent of a bygone age, as relevant today as when it was first written. There is an undercurrent of a permeating malaise throughout the book that culminates in a shattering climax. Believe me, you will feel Mildred Pierce's pain, as she discovers how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child, when Veda delivers the unkindest cut of all. This book is a winner and a true American classic.
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on January 1, 2004
A remarkable story of human relationships, complexities, perseverance, and weakness!
All too often people turn a blind eye to what they refuse to believe, or perhaps can't comprehend - and we see this played out in the interactions of Mildred and her daughter Veda! This adds to the reader's involvement and emotional responses to this stunning and well told novel. A powerful piece of writing!
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on June 18, 2003
It's inevitable that most readers should go into this book with the excellent film version starring Joan Crawford in their minds. However, the two are quite different beasts, which is a credit to the strength and originality of both.
This is not a crime novel as the film implied, but a tough Depression era story of a woman determined to get by in a world of snobbery and class prejudices that even she herself cannot deny that she holds. When she becomes a single mother, Mildred is ashamed to have to take on a job as a waitress to keep her children in the relatively wealthy lifestyle to which they are accustomed. With nothing more than determination, she becomes the mistress of a restaurant empire and a wealthy businesswoman. But none of this is enough to endear her to her spitfire daughter Veda, whom she both dislikes and passionately admires.
It comes as a surprise that the Mildred of Cain's novel is more a Veronica Lake than a Crawford, a short-skirted coquette who uses her physical as well as mental assets to achieve what she needs. More complex is Mildred's relationship with Veda, and the character of Veda herself, a swaggering, overbearing, thoroughly nasty piece of work. If you thought Ann Blyth's Veda was unlikeable, meet this one! It's even more clear here that Mildred's motherly love has turned into unhealthy obsession. Unlike the film, the monster that is Veda is never really exorcised here.
It's the ending of the book which lets the rest down. The final quarter seems hasty - it smacks of an author who is getting a little tired of his characters and has run out of hoops for them to jump through. And while the book closes on a bleak sort of denouement, no real sense of conclusion or capitulation is gained. It should be noted that the ending is considerably different to that of the film, which, to my mind, ended things in a more satisfying matter - which admittedly had a classic crime story structure to its advantage.
Nevertheless, Cain's plain-spoken, tough-minded style and his talents as a storyteller make this a worthwhile read.
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on December 26, 2002
I don't know quite where to start when writing a review of this book. Even though I had seen the movie and so knew more or less how the story would unfold (or thought I did), I still couldn't put the book down. The Washington Post said that "James M. Cain is the poet of the hard-boiled school of the American novel," and that compliment is well deserved. I was immediately drawn into the story and stayed completely absorbed until the last page. As others have mentioned, the book is much darker than the movie, and more complex as well. I went back and read the last chapter over a few times just to savor the ending again. The first time it was so startling that I couldn't quite believe what I had read. This is just one example of the power of Cain's writing. It's simply remarkable.
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on December 1, 2002
I re-read this novel after recently seeing the movie again. I remembered that Cain's novel felt darker and dingier than the movie, but I had forgotten how different the novel was.
Mildred Pierce was filmed at a time when Hollywood still needed to punish evil. James M Cain knew that evil frequently fares quite well in the world.
The movie is a lot of fun all on its own, but don't confuse it with the much more complex novel.
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on December 11, 2001
Unlike the famous film version, Cain's novel of a hard-knocks woman who dumps her no-good husband and raises the kids on her own is completely devoid of any Hollywood glamour--and all the better for it: Mildred is one tough dame, ready to do whatever it takes to keep her family going. Cain's strong prose goes straight to the stomach like a boxer's fist, and it leaves an honest impact; even if you didn't like the film you'll be proud to say you've read the book.
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on November 19, 2001
Mildred Pierce is one of those 'tough as nails, heart of gold' mothers who should an inspiration to all women. She kicks out her dead-beat husband, works her tail off to keep food on the table and her daughters happy, and has the guts/brains to start her own successful business. So what's wrong (and why did James M. Cain bother to write about her)?
Unable to face reality, Mildred is the victim of her own blindness to her rotten eldest daughter's ways. Not only is her daughter unappreciative, she actually ridicules her mother as being some uncouth and ignorant embarassment. Mildred's toughness melts when confronting her monster daughter, much to her detriment. While a heartbreaking story overall, the ending is especially moving ... have your hankies ready.
Perhaps many folks reading this review has seen the famous film adaption (starring Joan Crawford) of Mildred Pierce. While the film generally carries the intent of James M. Cain's written word, there are several differences. Obviously Hollywood wanted to over-dramatize, or simply invent scenes. As much as I like the movie I enjoyed the book more; I found it to be more personal , intense and believable.
Bottom line: required reading by all mothers, strongly recommended to everyone else.
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on April 1, 2001
I never met a James M. Cain novel I didn't like and this one was no exception. The title is of the lead character who rises to great success during the Depression with a series of restaurants in early California. However, she has one big problem: the daughter she raised alone, Veda. Veda becomes a singer and also a master at deceiving and betraying her mother. Veda does not even consider her mother's spouse, her stepfather, off limits. This showcases the same intense Cain focus on a twisted relationship but this time it is on the mother-daughter relationship, arguably a more powerful one than the lover-lover one. This was made into a movie starring Joan Crawford, who won an Oscar playing Mildred. I thought this film version went too over the top though and veered into being maudlin and soap operaish. Stick with Cain's novel, the far more complex work.
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on January 9, 2001
If you think that rotten, ungrateful children began in the 90's (or ended with King Lear's daughters), meet Vida Pierce, Mildred's daughter, an amoral young thing with a talent for singing and a disdain for anything low. Watch as Vida climbs to the top of the radio singing world and seduces her stepfather.
Excellent character study, and source for the great film which gave Joan Crawford her Oscar®
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on July 16, 2000
This is a classic story of a family destroyed and a mother's attempt to shield her daughter. Left financially insecure after a divorce, Mildred experiences the American dream and builds up a successful business of her own. Her happiness is marred by her cheating second husband and a rebellious daughter. The situation worsens until the climax and Mildred must then choose between herself and her daughter.
Always suspenseful and engaging, the characters in Mildred Pierce are very down to earth and believable. Although I am French and not American, I could identify with Mildred, her hopes and her fears.
This is a great book and highly entertaining.
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