Stephen King: Rose Madder
This review is long past due, as I finished reading this book months ago. I picked up a copy of Stephen King's Rose Madder for my trip home from San Diego. I find that, from experience, reading a good book during emotionally painful flights helps trick the mind from thinking about the pain.
My relationship with Stephen King's work is torn. My first experience with his work occurred when I was a lot younger and read Pet Sematary, which I loved. I didn't come across his work again until I was 20 and studying in the Netherlands. I decided to pick up Duma Key and I can say with certainty that that novel is definitely one of my favorite books ever. While I also enjoyed The Shining, I found that two of his other novels, Carrie and Christine, did not incarcerate my attention the way Duma Key did. So while I feel tempted to call him one of my favorite authors (and I do call him such, as his writing is undoubtedly phenomenal), and am always anticipating new releases from him, I can't say I'm always left mesmerized by his books. Rose Madder was one such book that left me disinterested at points, though I'll get more into that in just a bit. First, some pictures:
And for emphasis:
I think ALL books should be priced this affordable, if not more. $15 for a paperback nowadays is RIDICULOUS.
Anyway, I picked up the Signet copy of Rose Madder. The story itself was first published in 1995, so it's not one of King's oldest works but it isn't one of his newest either.
The summary/preview of the book had me immediately: an abused woman runs away from her husband, hoping for freedom but instead living in fear as he hunts her down. I instantly saw the huge potential for fear in this book, as the basis of the plot was plausible on a realistic level and therefore all the more frightening. And I found myself engrossed in the story for more than half of the book, not wanting to stop because I was dying to know what was happening next.
I want to attempt to talk about the story in some kind of order, so I'll start with the beginning, which I loved. It was disturbing but believable because, yes, these kinds of things really can happen between husbands and wives. The main character, Rose, is beaten by her husband, Norman, again, only this time she is pregnant and the blood on her thighs signals a miscarriage. Despite the incident, she remains with Norman because he's a cop, and her chances of changing her life seem infinitely low, especially when he constantly threatens her with death.
At least she feels this way until she wakes up to a blood stain on her bed sheets and realizes that she can't keep living the way she is, with constant pain in her kidneys and fear paralyzing her every second. So she takes the initiative and leaves.
I don't want to summarize the book, so I'll stop there, but this part of the story had my full attention and more, making me want to read nonstop without feeling the hours spent on planes and in airports. But there was a change in the story that lost a lot of my interest. For the sake of organization, I'll talk about the aspects I liked and those I didn't.
WHAT I LIKED
I thought King did an excellent job portraying Rose's life in continuous fear - even away from Norman - and Norman's domineering obsession with Rose defying him. There was a strong gender undercurrent in this novel and, while I am far from being a feminist, I think King did a great job showing the abuse that sometimes takes over in marriages.
I really felt anticipation the closer Norman got to finding Rose. It unfortunately wasn't the fear I was hoping for, because of other aspects I did not like in the novel, but it was interesting nonetheless.
I loved the recurring image of the wolves up in the park that Bill, Rose's eventual boyfriend, takes her to. I love how Rose feels a connection to this wolf and her pups, and how she returns to the spot repeatedly at the novel's end.
Although I did not like the alternate universe in the painting (more on that below in the What I Didn't Like section), I did enjoy the dead character of Rose Madder and how she completely mutilates Norman near the book's end. I found the description of his mutilated body to be chilling.
Above all, I love how this book - although it tears away from the realistic - ends on a very realistic note. You'll soon see how one of the aspects I did not enjoy in this novel was how predictable and, well, TV/book-like some of the incidents were (in other words, all-to-common in the media). However, the novel ends with Rose being nearly psychotic, despite her dream-come-true (or so it seemed) ending with Bill, the stereotypical amazing husband, and the birth of her daughter (finally). Rose has the happy-ending family but is not happy, and I love this. Because think about it: she's abused for years and treated like garbage by a man. How can someone like that possibly meet someone new and suddenly have the perfect fairy tale life? Of course there will be psychological damage that will perhaps be impossible to repair, and I love how King ends the novel showing this fact.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE
While I first appreciated the switching back and forth between Rose's POV and Norman's POV, it became redundant when the two were finally in close proximity of each other. What I mean to say is that while they were still in different cities developing their lives apart from each other, it was interesting to see what was going on with both of them. But once they were closer together and passing by each other (without notice, even), there were just a lot of the same details and plot repeated, which, in my opinion, drastically slowed down the pace of the book where it should have instead been picked up.
I did not like Norman's obsession with the bull mask. I know the mask was drawing a connection between him and the bull in the world of the painting, but I just could not take that mask seriously which, in turn, made me not feel any fear in him at all while he had the mask on (which was supposed to be the time when he was really going crazy and should have been extremely frightening).
Two details specifically lost the most of my interest when they appeared in the book: the painting with Rose Madder and Bill. In terms of the painting, I love how Rose was somewhat obsessed with it for inexplicable reasons and how the painting itself started adjusting what was in the frame. In fact, that detail about the painting was pretty creepy. But I was totally lost when the painting suddenly turned into a portal to another world, where Rose Madder and some other woman in the painting were actual characters. It instantly yanked the book out of its realistic setting, which is what I personally felt provided it with the potential to be very scary.
In terms of Bill, well, he was annoying. He was too good and from the start was obviously going to be the man that comes into Rose's life and tries to show her that Norman is the exception, because obviously a story about abuse wouldn't be complete without the abused being faced with the man that is set on changing her entire fearful perspective on men and, ultimately, life. *Exhale.* It was a pain to read through the parts about Rose and Bill because they just made me think yes, of course the entire time. Which is why I love how Rose ends up picturing scenarios of violence towards him at the book's end, during their not-so-happily ever after.
While I will admit that it took a while for me to get through the last one-third of the book, the ending won me over and made Rose Madder one that I will recommend to others. Its tangent from reality, though an aspect I did not particularly like, is characteristic of King, so if you don't like books with a touch of fantasy you should skip this one (and most others by him, in fact).
If you enjoy getting scared, and stories rooted in, but not constrained to, reality give you the chills, then I would recommend this book.
This book wasn't a complete love for me, but it has kept my interest in King at a steady level, so I will definitely be reading more of his novels in the future. To be honest, I've been reading his Dark Tower series, though I'm not entirely in love with that either, and I am seriously anticipating his upcoming novels, Dr. Sleep and Joyland (especially the latter), so look out for more reviews of King books from me in the future.
Thanks for stopping by! 'Til next time! ('<>')>