Mildred Pierce by James M Cain

Then…

😦 😦

When Bert Pierce loses everything in the Great Crash, he turns to another woman to soothe his bruised ego. This is understandable, since the woman he has married, the eponymous Mildred, is not someone you’d really look to for sympathy or support, though on the upside she bakes good pie. So when Bert leaves/is thrown out, Mildred decides to make pies for a living and astonishingly this enables her to become incredibly rich despite the Depression. Mind you, when I’m depressed, pie always helps, it’s true. However, this amazing success isn’t enough for her snobbish daughter who spends all the money while sneering at her mother’s method of earning it. As Veda grows up, their relationship becomes increasingly fraught…

Nope, couldn’t get on with this one at all. I stuck it out to the bitter end, and boy, was it bitter. But I spent most of it wishing that a plague or asteroid would hit, wiping them all from the face of the earth. The only thing that makes Mildred remotely likeable is the fact that Veda is so horrible. Having a mother as dull and tedious as Mildred couldn’t have been any fun though, especially since she veered from pathetic weakness to beating her child viciously. The best I could say about either of them is that they deserved each other. I, however, felt that I didn’t deserve either of them.

The fact that I found neither of them psychologically convincing was a major part of the problem, as was my extreme doubt over the unbelievable success of Mildred’s business ventures. Was it really so easy for a rather stupid, completely inexperienced woman to get thousands of dollars of credit during the Depression even if she did bake good pies? If so, I wonder why so many people suffered. They should just have gone to the bank and got a suitcase full of dosh and set up a small business. Apparently the whole depressed world was just longing to go out and spend money on pie and other such essentials of life. I don’t know what Steinbeck was whining on about in The Grapes of Wrath – the Joads could have just borrowed some money and set up their own orange juice business.

(Hopefully the movie will be better…)

But, in truth, neither of these was the real issue. I’d have accepted Mildred’s and Veda’s dodgy and unexplained rivalry and their easy-to-acquire wealth without much thought, had it not been for my struggles with the actual writing. When you find yourself searching your Kindle to find out how often an author uses the word ‘then’, then you know he’s lost you. Books don’t often make me resort to Trumpesque Twitter storms, but this one did – I had to relieve my feelings somehow or I’d have thrown the Kindle at the wall, and then have had to sell enough pie to buy a new one. The question of how many ‘thens’ there are will remain forever unanswered – the Kindle could merely tell me it was ‘over 500’. Now at least I know the maximum the Kindle will count up to.

…Mrs Gessler went to work. She pinned Mildred’s dress up, so it was a sort of sash around her hips, with a foot of white slip showing. Then she put on the galoshes, over the gold shoes. Then she put on the evening coat, and pulled the trench coat over it. Then she found a kerchief, and bound it tightly around Mildred’s head. Mildred, suddenly transformed into something that looked like Topsy, sweetly said goodbye to them all. Then she went to the kitchen door, reached out into the wet, and pulled open the car door. Then she hopped in. Then she started the motor. Then she started the wiper. Then she tucked the robe around her. Then, waving gaily to the three anxious faces at the door, she started the car, and went backing down to the street.

If I’d handed something like that in to my primary school teacher, I’d have been rapped over the knuckles with a ruler (yes, they really did things like that back in the dark ages) and sent away to rewrite it. What a pity Cain’s editor didn’t do the same! I’d even have lent him/her my ruler.

And the endless, tedious descriptions of how the business worked, down to the last tiny details, meant that I spent most of my time bored rigid. As I’m sure you probably are too by this lengthy whingefest of a review, so I shall cease. Needless to say, not one of my favourite books, and I truthfully don’t understand why it’s considered a classic. I’d have thought quality writing would have been an essential criterion for a book to acquire that status. But apparently not.

Book 31 of 90

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42 thoughts on “Mildred Pierce by James M Cain

    • Three different kinds of fruit pie – cherry, apple and I’ve forgotten the third. Then she branched out to chicken (not in a pie). And oddly, chicken and pie was enough to turn her into a popular restaurant for the wealthy… *cynical face*

    • Hahahaha! You’re right – I was being too kind!

      Isn’t it awful? OK, I picked the worst bit but there’s loads of it like that. Ugh! But lots of people seem to love it…

  1. Wow the quote almost makes it seem like Mr Cain was taking the mickey! I really enjoyed The Postman Always Rings Twice, but then I can’t remember whether he played fast and loose with the ‘then’s then either. Then again, maybe I’m just unobservant. Then.

    • I know! And I’ve since read The Postman and he doesn’t do all those thens at all, so it must have been a deliberate choice – maybe to show the existential tedium of the life of a pie-maker… 😉

  2. I suspect the ‘classic’ status of Mildred Pierce has come about through a conflation of the book with the film (judging from the sample you provide, FF). The movie version features Joan Crawford at her melodramatic finest.

    • Yes, I actually watched the film after I’d drafted the review and it’s so much better than the book. They throw in a murder for starters – a thing I felt the book badly needed. I’d have bumped them both off on page 1 and read something else instead if only I’d known… 😉

  3. So, let me guess, FIctionFan….this one didn’t exactly sweep you away, right? I’m thinking about your comments about the writing style, and it occurs to me how often things like that pull a reader right out of a story. Sometimes it’s not the big things (although not warming to characters is pretty big, I suppose). It’s those smaller details. Hmm….food for thought, for which I’m always grateful.

    • Hahaha – not exactly, no! 😉 Yes, I know that if something starts to annoy me about a book, I then get picky about every other little detail till it all builds up to a two-star review. Had there been fewer thens, I might even have enjoyed it…

  4. Oh, how sad! He missed the day when we were taught to mix-up our transitional words! How about mixing sentence structure, too! (I’m know I’m guilty of this, but then again, I don’t write classics. 😉). I hope you love your next one! I hope it’s one of the amorous ones! (Redundancy on purpose!)

    • Haha – I often think lots of reviewers around the blogosphere write better English than a lot of famous authors! I shall go off and allow myself to be vicariously seduced along with Tess – much more fun! 😉

  5. Well then. I never read this one, but on the basis of your review, I’m sure whatever I did with the hours I saved was more fun, even if it was having teeth drawn without an anaesthetic.

  6. Yikes!!!!!
    I agree with Angela Savage. I saw the movie ages ago. Didn’t know it was based on a book (hadn’t paid attention to the credits). How interesting that Joan Crawford became infamous due to the Mommie Dearest memoir.

    • I watched the movie after I’d drafted the review and it’s so much better than the book! The good thing about Hollywood is that they had no objection to throwing in a nice murder to jazz things up a bit. She was a great actress though…

  7. Laughing myself silly over this: “I spent most of it wishing that a plague or asteroid would hit, wiping them all from the face of the earth.” How I love your I-hated-this-book reviews, FF! These folks sound dreadful. How you managed to wade through it amazes me. And you’re so right — my teachers would’ve had fits if I’d turned in that kind of writing, zeroing in on “then.” Perhaps this editor should be forced to sit in front of the chalkboard with his nose in a circle!

    • Hahaha – I do get a little bitter when a book rubs me up the wrong way, don’t I? 😂 I read another of his books later and he doesn’t do all that then stuff in it, so it must have been a deliberate choice in this one – a bad choice! Ugh!

  8. I also enjoy your two and one star reviews so much. That truly is dreadful writing. Wasn’t there a version with Kate Winslet a few years ago? Have you seen that one? Anyway, thanks for saving me from reading this!

    • Haha – I do get a bit bitter and twisted, don’t I? 😂 I haven’t seen the Kate Winslet version but I’ve kinda gathered from other people that it isn’t as good as the film. The film is much better than the book, though, for once…

  9. My school teachers would also have got the ruler out, especially Mr Curtis who needed little encouragement to humiliate his pupils, but thanks for the very amusing review! You’ve not tempted me this time 😏

    • I think I’ll skip the Kate Winslet version then, but the old Joan Crawford movie is good. They changed the story quite dramatically and it improved it immensely… 😉

  10. I wonder if the repetition of the word “then” was meant to make the readers really feel the monotony of all the stupid little things that this character is doing. THEN again, even if it was a stylistic choice, it’s not one that seems to be conveying the right message or feeling.

    • I think he must have been doing it deliberately because I read another of his books after this, which was written before it, I think, and he didn’t do the same in it. But whatever he was trying to achieve, all he actually did was make me want to get one of Mildred’s pies and splat him in the face with it… 😈

    • Haha – well, it was on my Classics Club list and I seem to have abandoned half the American books on the list, so I thought I better finish one! But as you can see, it made me rather bitter… 😉

    • Haha – I assure you, your book didn’t make me want to throw it at the wall… 😉 The film is much better – they clearly hired a good scriptwriter to make it more interesting…

  11. HAHA I am sorry you disliked this so much but it did make for an amusing review to watch. Thank you for ploughing through this to be able to warn us all not to! However I did find the TV adaptation starring Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce and a very young Evan Rachel Wood impressive.

    • Haha – I did get a little bitter and twisted in this review, but I had to get it out of my system somehow… 😉 I haven’t seen the Winslet one but I enjoyed the old Joan Crawford film considerably more than the book – the scriptwriter added a murder which I felt helped enormously. Sadly, it wasn’t Mildred who was murdered though…

  12. I could never be bored rigid by a classic FF 2 star review! Just found this nestled in the TBR post 🙂 I eat quite a lot of pies of various types and I suppose if I couldn’t make my own, I might spend a few quid on them. Still seems a bit of an unlikely way to make a fortune, though. This sounds like a horribly dull book – but the review cheered me right up! Good work, FF! 😀

    • Hahaha – glad you enjoyed it! I was feeling rather bitter when I wrote it – in fact, it was days before I could face a pie with my usual enthusiasm… fortunately, I’m fully recovered now. 😀

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