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Publisher's Summary

Mildred Pierce had gorgeous legs, a way with a skillet, and a bone-deep core of toughness and determination. She used those attributes to survive a divorce in 1940s America with two children and to claw her way out of poverty, becoming a successful businesswoman. But Mildred also had two weaknesses: a yen for shiftless men and an unreasoning devotion to her monstrous daughter.

Out of these elements, Cain created a novel (later made into a film noir classic) of acute social observation and devastating emotional violence - and a heroine whose ambitions and sufferings are never less than recognizable.

©1941 James M. Cain (P)2007 Blackstone Audio Inc.

Critic Reviews

"[James M. Cain is] the poet of the hard-boiled school of the American novel." (Washington Post) "A novel that, once begun, will almost surely be read to the reflects no codes, no restrictions, and none but the primordial necessities. It is a bath in sensation." (New York Times Book Review)

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  • Overall

Mildred -- you pierce my heart

Great quickie read. Terrific rendering of the 1930s - 1940s. But better even was the psychological impact of the book. As the plot surged forward, just when you think you know what is coming, well, something else happens. The twist at the end is delicious. In the end it caused me to shake my head at how little the world has changed. The mother-daughter tensions are wild and real. The title could easily been Veda Pierce. The audio book reader, however was ill-suited for this dark tale of warning. If not a man, then a woman with a less childish, more mature voice with a better sense of pacing and drama would have made this a finer experience. Looking forward to HBOs 5 night presentation of Mildred, played by Kate Winslett (3/27/11).

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

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You can get arrested for bad morals

This is like historical fiction. Cain writes about the common man or woman. I like it better then books about presidents or rich guys. Cain's writing is usually exciting and he has mastered the ability to keep you interested in the story and the characters.

Mildred Pierce is a housewife who divorces her worthless husband and starts a business on her own in the 30's. She is hard working and you really want her to succeed. Unfortunately those around her just want to take advantage of her. The relationship between her and her daughter is different. The daughter is a major bitch and all Pierce wants to do is make her happy. Some people might find it unrealistic that a mother would cow tow so much to her daughter, but I have seen such things in real life.

In the thirties if two people want a divorce they must go to court and one of them must bring charges against the other. In one part of the story a young man is threaten to be taken to jail, because he may have gotten a young lady pregnant, because evidently we once had moral laws. It is very interesting to see how life has changed in the last 80 years.

The first half of this book is better then the second half, but none of it is bad. I have now listened to all three Cain books offered by audible and liked them all. The Postman always rings twice is my favorite.

The narrator is very different. It is like she is yelling at you from across a crowded room. Everything is read in a rush and as if each sentence is extremely exciting. You get used to it and it may have even helped some of the slower parts of the book. At other times it is little distracting.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A really great American novel

Mildred Pierce is perhaps the greatest work of America's most under rated literary genius. James M. Cain is the inventor of the novel style that today is termed "noir." He is universally known for his crime novels, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Double Indemnity.

Mildred Pierce is not a crime novel. It explores how the Great Depression impacted the psyche of one American woman, how her dangerous pride, which she instilled with disasterous results in her daughter, drove her to use her common talents and become a very successful business woman at a time when women did not own businesses. Mildred Pierce is an honest novel at a time when people did not discuss the intimate parts of their lives candidly. As with all of Cain's novels, it was way ahead of its time. Unlike some of the other listeners, I very much enjoyed this reader's performance. I highly recommend this audio book as a great story with philosophical depth.

The Hollywood movie from 1945, has very little to do with this novel which has much greater depth and is a more realistic story.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Prefer the film, but the book was okay.

My problem with the book was that I saw the film first and loved it. I was hoping the film was true to the book, but it was not. The basics are the same, but the major differences make the book experience somewhat different and a little lacking for me. I did enjoy some of the characters, although Mildred seemed to come across as more naive than ruthless. Normally I don't listen to female narrators, but this one was okay. She played a better Veda than Mildred, breathing more life and evil into that soulless child. Overall, the book did not emotionally grab me as the film did.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Gritty story about life, sacrifices and final rewards. Surprisingly engrossing. A good read. And a good story

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Ilana
  • Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  • 08-03-12

A fascinating character study

During the Great Depression, Mildred Pierce finds herself in need of a means to support herself and her two daughters, Ray and Veda. An excellent cook, she bakes homemade cakes and pies, selling them to locals, but this not providing sufficient income, she is forced to try to find a job, and quickly discovers that her training as a housewife doesn't qualify her in a job market that is more dire than ever. She reluctantly takes on a waitressing job, her main concern being that her daughters not discover that she's stooped to making a living wearing a uniform and taking tips. Veda, who is only eleven at the beginning of the novel, is a precocious girl who looks down on her middle-class background, and has aspirations of leading a much loftier (read: expensive) lifestyle than her mother can afford. Mildred desires only one thing: securing the love and approval of the condescending Veda, and to this end, she finds a way to start up a restaurant business in hopes of earning the means to keep Veda satisfied. Mildred's business meets with great success, but Vida continues to look down on her 'proletarian' mother to such a degree that she becomes verbally abusive to her, while Mildred still remains fixated on pleasing the girl. This is a heartbreaking tale of obsession; we see from the beginning that Mildred's attachment to Veda is out of proportion and feeds her daughter's need to humiliate her. A fascinating character study and a very well told and memorable novel.

As a side note, there were substantial changes to the plot in the original Joan Crawford movie which I had seen before reading (or in this case listening to) the book, so I was surprised with the ending that was nonetheless quite satisfactory. I found this narrator competent, but found her elocution slightly annoying at times, however this didn't detract me from getting immersed in the story.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Lorri
  • New Albany, IN, United States
  • 09-16-08

Good story. "Iffy" narrator.

It's been a bit since I've listened to the book, but I do remember enjoying the story and not caring for the narrator's tone. A lilt at the end of her sentences left me thinking the thought wasn't completed. I found her voice to be a bit overly dramatic.

6 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • jaye
  • GREENWICH, CT, United States
  • 08-25-14


Would you listen to Mildred Pierce again? Why?


What other book might you compare Mildred Pierce to and why?


What about Christine Williams’s performance did you like?


Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?


Any additional comments?


2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Such a fine example of melodrama. very enjoyable!

This is Such a fine example of melodrama at it's finest. I love this story very enjoyable!

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The True Story of Mildred Pierce

If you could sum up Mildred Pierce in three words, what would they be?

Mother Love Awry

Did the plot keep you on the edge of your seat? How?

Yes, the plot kept me on the edge of my seat. Mildred is a single mother struggling to deal with her obsessive love for her elder daughter, Vida, who is unusually beautiful, intelligent and determined to live a life of wealth and luxury. She has the potential to be a force of both joy or destruction in Mildred's life. As Vida gets older, Mildred's competing drives to raise her daughter properly and indulge her, hoping to draw her near, force her to take more and more dangerous risks. The question is whether or not Vida will succeed in a) elevating Mildred's life or b) ruining it. This keeps the reader on the edge of his seat.

Have you listened to any of Christine Williams’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

This was my first exposure to Ms. Williams's narrations. I thought she did a wonderful job capturing Mildred's anxiety about social class both as a single mother and woman from a blue collar background whose first husband helped her move up in the world--then walked out on her. She also conveyed Mildred's sensitivity toward her elder daughter, Vida's sometimes ruthless treatment of her. In addition, she easily conveys the resourcefulness of a successful entrepreneur.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Mildred's affection for Vida borders on something between religious devotion and physical attraction--pretty racy material. As these are two of the strongest impulses in human nature, I found it a fascinating and at times frightening story. However it was impossible to see Mildred Pierce as a victim. The visceral pleasure she takes when in close proximity to her daughter (she is overwhelmed by her beauty, her scent, her skin) seems unwholesome and raises question marks. I empathized with Mildred's struggle but did not shed a tear for her.

Generally speaking, I found each of the characters in the novel compelling. What happens to each of them never seems random. For example, even the illness (I am trying to avoid spoilers) of the younger daughter of Mildred's, Moiray, seems a foreshadowing of the doom Mildred invites into her life when she runs off swimming with Monte the weekend Moiray gets sick. That was a sad note in the book, but sends such a clear signal that Mildred has taken a wrong turn it was hard to get too worked up about it.
NOTE: I was thrilled to learn that the original movie with Joan Crawford is only partially based on the novel; the two stories are completely different. The HBO special Mildred Pierce is faithful to the book and does a wonderful job of bringing the real Mildred Pierce to light. I love both screen versions of Mildred Pierce.

Any additional comments?

One of the most unique things about the novel is its handling of the tragedy teenage Vida undergoes when her hopes of becoming a concert pianist are dashed and she is forced to join the civilian species for a brief time until she accidentally stumbles upon her greater talent. The journey of a "wundakind" whose dreams go awry is not something written about a great deal. I found it fascinating. It is not something we expect to happen to Vida and comes as a great surprise. When Vida's real talent is revealed, her achievements come too quickly, an error that can be easily corrected. (I am surprised it was not corrected in the HBO Series Mildred Pierce. Perhaps that is because it is a film so very loyal to the book.)