Author: Stephen King
In Rose Madder a woman named Rosie Daniels is an abusive relationship with her husband Norman. On top of all the normal reasons a woman might not leave or report her abuser, Rosie also has to deal with Norman being a police officer. Norman is a really terrific villain, having all sorts of creepy habits and tendencies that understandably terrify Rosie. (“I want to talk to you Rosie, up close…”) The book begins with a scene of Norman’s abuse, and then skips ahead several years to show Rosie’s moment of decision that leads her to flee the house one day in search of a new life.
Once Rosie steps out on her own, King does a nice job of telling a story of a woman scared, second guessing every decision she makes. As she makes her way to a shelter specializing in her situation, she begins to become a new person. Some of this is a result of gaining confidence, friends, and a sense of independence. There’s another part of it that seems to be tied to a painting she gets at a pawn shop of a woman with her back turned standing near ruins in a toga.
The painting is the basis for the title of the book, it’s the big supernatural part that makes it a Stephen King book and not just a thriller, and none of it worked for me. **Spoilers follow** After Rosie gets the painting home, it begins changing until eventually it becomes a portal into another world that she can walk in to. The first time this happens is as an extended dream sequence, and the second time is in a really unsatisfying resolution to the book’s conflict. ** End of spoilers** Each of these sections really dragged to read, and the stakes for the characters involved never felt in peril (for Rose) or in doubt (for Norman). It also ties into the actual ending of the book, which took an interesting turn at first with the changes the events have caused in Rose before tying back into the portal story in an unsatisfying manner.
Rose Madder reminded me of another Stephen King book I read recently called The Outsider. Both books featured characters fairly grounded in reality and a compelling plot driving the action, and both depended on supernatural occurrences in the climactic moments that didn’t deliver on all of the set up. With Rose Madder the villain is actually a normal human (until maybe he isn’t at the end) and the supernatural occurrences are intertwined with the protagonist, which is the opposite from The Outsider. Of the two I preferred The Outsider, as at least the supernatural element seemed necessary to tell that story.
I’m guessing that this book either ties into later books in King’s oeuvre or supports his rules established in books like The Dark Tower series or The Talisman. Rose Daniels and Rose Madder seem to be “twinners” of some sort, and the other world she walks through was reminiscent of some of those other books. While normally I’d love that sort of Easter egg, supernatural stuff, Norman was enough of a villain on his own that bringing in an uninteresting supernatural angle really detracted from everything King set up earlier.