Yes, it's another post on the 40s version of "Mildred Pierce!" I admit it, I just can't get enough of that film. I'll keep watching it til I figure out why I keep watching it.
Camus called the book's author, James M. Cain, America's greatest writer. I think I can guess why an Existentialist would say that. Cain believes that all people have both a good and a bad side, and for that reason the world is dominated by moral ambiguity and unhappiness.
Just for the record, I don't buy Cain's depressing philosophy but he's such a good writer that I give him the benefit of the doubt for the duration of the story.
Warning: I give away some of the less important plot elements here.
There's a shooting at the start and Mildred is made to tell her story to the police. The novel doesn't start that way, but the device is pure genius because it justifies the narration and the flashbacks that follow. It's a nice way to compress a complicated story.
Mildred's a simple housewife, but her excessive dedication to her snooty daughter brings her into conflict with her husband. It's tragic because they're both good people.
She leaves her husband and takes up with an amiable weasel. He's amoral but she needs companionship.
After she leaves her husband and ventures out into the outside world, she encounters four or five major types of people. It's like a medieval morality tale that introduces us, one by one, to the different kinds of false friends and demons that are out there. All have a good side, but all will eventually betray her.
Mildred gets a job as a waitress and meets a woman who will become her friend. The friend is helpful when Mildred starts her own restaurant, but is also self-absorbed, and isn't proper friend material.
Unable to find a genuine friend, Mildred tries romance with a formerly rich gold-digger. He has a nice side, but.....
Even the daughter she made so many sacrifices for treats her badly. Unable to find any good in the world she heroically tries to create the good by spoiling her kid.
Yikes, I have lots more to say, but I'm running out of space. I'll have to continue this another time.