I just finished watching HBO’s five-part miniseries, Mildred Pierce. For those who haven’t seen it or the original 1945 film starring Joan Crawford, the plot is basically this: After her cheating husband leaves her, Mildred Pierce aims to prove she can become independent and successful, but after a chain of successful pie/waffle/chicken restaurants, she still cannot win the approval of her spoiled, ungrateful daughter.
I saw the original film in college, when I was a daughter, and had the same reaction as I did now as a mother of a daughter: Yes, I understood and admired the long-suffering devotion of Mildred, but I still found myself yelling at the screen: Woman, get over it! Your daughter is no good! Live your life! To hell with her! But it took Kate Winslet, who played Mildred this time around, five long hours of melodrama to finally — finally! — reach that point.
The mother-daughter relationship remains one of the most fascinating, elusive relationships there is, even after the exploration by centuries of literature, a century or so of film and a half-century of television. Mildred Pierce, Mommie Dearest, Terms of Endearment, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club and Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother are just a few of the creative works that have covered this territory, and as I forge ahead with my second novel, I too will try to make sense of this complex dynamic between a mother and a daughter and, I hope, add a little something to the ongoing dialogue.