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Mildred Pierce – James Cain

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Mildred Pierce by James Cain

Publisher: Vintage (Movie Tie-In edition)

Like many others, I saw the recent Kate Winslet mini-series “Mildred Pierce,” and finally saw the film starring Joan Crawford on Mother’s Day weekend, so I decided to read the book to further explore this story that deviates from many clichés of men, women, and children’s interpersonal relationships.

First, I like period stories that take in as a whole the economic effects, which is expected during the Great Depression.  Mr. Cain not only explained it from the viewpoint of the lead character Mildred, but it was done well enough to dread opening the mailbox for the incoming bills.  Such realism adds richness to the book and is applicable today.

Stories and marriage deviate as much as marriage itself.  The relatively benign ending of Mildred’s first marriage isn’t typical, but some marriages do end without a love/hate firestorm of verbal abuse and/or worse.  By the book’s end, the message rings clear that married couples sometimes find more in common with each other than anyone else they meet in the future.

The relationship of Mildred and her dreadfully snobby daughter Veda I found to be difficult to take in; I’ve never witnessed such in a child.  But in fairness to the author, it’s a deviation away from a cliché that children always want to please their parents.  That isn’t always the case; here the parent is desperately trying to get approval from her child.  In a woman as smart and independent as Mildred a logical thinker would say she should throw that ungrateful kid out of the house; however, motherhood isn’t necessarily logical when it comes to love and protection of children.

Mildred’s taste in men appears to leave something to be desired, but again, she never appears to be looking for “perfect” love.  She wants companionship and equality during a time when such is in rare quantity.  While her marriage to her disloyal “boy-toy” Monty was a bad choice, nothing about his behavior before the end suggested that he would be anything else than what he turned out to be:  A non-working, formerly wealthy man dependent on women as long as he remained entertaining to them.  She never respected him and he resented it.

Last, but not least, is the character Mildred herself.  While being smart, strong-willed, and unpretentious, she makes misjudgments and mistakes.  The flaws in her character is what makes her seem all the more real to the reader.  She’s an inspiration for independent women and a cautionary reminder that even the most headstrong lady can fall to the oldest tricks that men do with women:  The opposite sex and money.

Mildred Pierce is an excellent, entertaining read.  It’s an alternative look into the life of a woman whose struggle isn’t raw emotion, abuse, or low self-esteem.  Instead, it reveals a woman who rises out of hard financial times on her own terms and hits the stumps of life that she can call her own.  Five stars!

Reviewer: C.C. Cole

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