Book Review – Rose Madder

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Book Review – Rose Madder

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 1995

I’m gonna have to do something sacrilegious here and disagree with my favorite author; Steven King thinks that he was trying too hard with Rose Madder and with Insomnia, that they are stiff novels, and most readers agree with him, but I can’t.  At least not fully, because I do think Insomnia is one of his weakest books, even with its ties to The Dark Tower, but I can’t say the same about Rose Madder, even if it’s generally considered Lesser King.  I consider myself an amateur expert, I’ve read enough to say that, and I’ve re-read enough, I’ve connected enough, I’ve dived in deep enough, King is the author I know best, for sure.  And while this book is very different from his others, it also takes the time to paint a very clear picture, one that unsettles more than entertains, which may be, for some, part of the problem.

Rose Daniels is being abused constantly, so much so that she’s begun to retreat within her own head, to stop thoughts of leaving from forming before they even have the chance to emerge, which is part self-preservation and part burgeoning insanity.  Her husband Norman is a cop, a vicious man, a trained dog, always on the edge of violence, and Rose feels fear for her life every day, when she hasn’t shut her mind so completely that she can’t feel a thing.  One day, almost ridiculously spontaneously, Rose decides to leave, walks out the door, and doesn’t look back.  Her new life as Rosie McLendon in a big city hundreds of miles away is moving in the right direction, thanks to a battered women’s group and a young man named Bill, who is everything she never dreamed she’d find, but the happy times are cursed from the start.  Norman is on the hunt, he will run down his Rose, and she will have to face him eventually.  A painting that Rosie finds at a pawn shop and feels a strong connection to will strangely become the weapon to defeat her husband, and the tool to find the strength she always had inside.

So many things.  First, I understand why this isn’t a popular King book, and I can even understand why King himself doesn’t love it; it’s his book, I guess if he says it’s no good, it’s no good.  But I can’t help feeling like there’s a way to “enjoy” this story, that others maybe didn’t find that door, and that that’s the problem.  The abuse story is shockingly unsettling, some won’t even be able to make it past that, and perhaps they shouldn’t try if it all feels too personal and too real.  It’s hard to stomach, painted brightly with no blurry edges around the evil character of Norman, but I think that’s the way it needs to be.  Also, the connection to The Dark Tower is nice, though small, as is the fantasy element of the painting, which is vitally important to the action and I think handled really smartly.  Rose and Bill are awesome, I was rooting for them, and there are so many chapters that are just Norman creeping closer, losing control of himself more and more, until by the end he’s a raving lunatic, and I loved watching that devolution.  Lastly, I think I read this book like I was watching it as a movie instead, and I think that’s why I liked it so much.  It would look amazing on screen, the other-wordly elements would play beautifully, and I know that most King stuff doesn’t adapt well, but I feel like Rose Madder could, maybe in part because it’s not your average reader’s favorite book to curl up with.  It’s uncomfortable, it’s disturbing, but it has real heart and something really important to say, which is why I wish more people would give it more of a chance.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆