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.
Cain's classic novel, and the source for the 1945 film starring Joan Crawford, makes its way onto audio with this reading by actor and singer Williams. Cain's purple prose and then-scandalous dialogue take on new life under Williams's direction, her assured tone underscoring the legendary noir writer's rip-roaring tale of a woman scorned who survives no-good men and a hateful daughter to make it in 1930s Los Angeles. Williams is out of her depth encountering tense or high-pitched dialogue, reading it in a clipped monotone that does little for Cain's drama, but is on far stronger ground with the rest of the book, which flourishes under her steady, patient, ever-so-slightly melancholic gaze. Williams's reading lacks the rage that moved Crawford's Mildred, but her version of the now-familiar story amplifies our sense of Cain's heroine as an abandoned woman who finds her own way, on her own terms.