I found the title Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity) on a list of classic mysteries, and chose it to fulfill that category of the “2012 Back to the Classics Challenge.” I waited for the murder, or physical attack, but it never came. Instead–as the back cover states–the story was rife with “devastating emotional violence.”
It is 1931, during the Great Depression. Mildred, an attractive woman in her late twenties, finds herself alone to raise two daughters after booting out her unemployed philanderer of a husband. Through hard work and determination, she makes use of her great legs and excellent kitchen skills to pull her and her girls out of poverty.
Her fatal flaw, however, is an unreasonable devotion to her older daughter, Veda, a strikingly cold, haughty, and manipulative child.
To say I was drawn into the 297-page story does not cut it. I read the book in a day and a half and that’s only because I had other obligations. The protagonist often got on my nerves. Her behavior was frustrating at times and her world view foolish. Yet, I was quickly hooked and cared deeply about her and the other characters.
The book was fast-paced and far more gritty than I thought books were in 1941, the year of its publication. James Cain’s storytelling skills are top-notch and I will seek out his other works. I recommend this to anyone who likes intense drama.