I'm always reading something, usually multiple books at a time.
I decided to read this after having watched the HBO mini series on DVD. I was aware that there had been a film version starring Joan Crawford in the 1940s, which I had a vague notion of having seen. However, I was most of the way through the mini before realizing that I'd conflated it with Stella, starring Barbara Stanwyck (and, in its remake, Bette Midler).
In any event, I found the mini series compelling enough to do some web searching on the title, which is how I came to know that Cain had also written The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. I checked out the book from my local library the next chance I had.
Mildred Pierce, the book's eponymous herione, kicks out her philandering husband Bert, who has lost his real-estate fortune in the 1929 stock-market crash, and begins to look for a job that will allow her to support two daughters. Initially, she attempts to find sales or reception jobs, but with no success. Finally, she swallows her pride and accepts a waitressing position at a diner, though she is determined that her eldest daughter Veda not know that her mother has work that requires a uniform. Veda is haugthy and class conscious, disdainful of the life and Glendale, CA environs she was born into.
Mildred shrewdly learns everything she can while working at the diner, and simultaneously builds a side business making and selling pies to various restaurants, including the one where she waitresses. She uses what she's learned about restaurants, plus her earnings from the pie business, to establish her own restaurant in Glendale, specializing in chicken (choices are chicken plus waffles or chicken plus vegetables). Meanwhile, she continues the pie business, wholesaling to other restaurants and also selling the pies from her own.
Before too long, she opens two other restaurants--one in Beverly and one in Laguna--and she begins to pile up the money. But, as the back cover of the book will tell you, "Mildred had two weaknesses: a yen for shiftless men and an unreasoning devotion to a monstrous daughter." Although Bert qualifies as a shiftless man, the most devastating consequences come from her relationship with shiftless man #2, one Monty Beragon. He's a faded polo player, playboy, and Pasadena socialite. Monstrous daughter is Veda, who is happy to be integrated into Monty's Pasadena social scene. Mildred will go to any lengths to support Veda's ambitions, whether social or in music.
Mildred makes some disastrous financial and relationship decisions in order to keep Veda in her life, despite all the evidence that Veda is a poisonous manipulator. Without giving away details, I will say that Mildred goes through a devastating double betrayal. Nevertheless, Cain brings her full circle in certain ways, ending in such a way that readers can expect that Mildred will be okay.