In The End, It’s The Bitches of The World Who Abide… And As For The Dust Bunnies: Frig Ya!

(Dolores Claiborne)

I’ve read both Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne before, so I knew they were linked. This is the first time I’ve ever read the two books back to back like this, though, so it’s interesting to see how clearly they’re linked. One eclipse connected two completely unconnected lives. It doesn’t make any difference to either story, not really… but it does, in a way. The two stories tackle very similar subject matter, and it’s a way of highlighting to the characters that they’re not alone. It highlights that to us Constant Readers as well — it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about poor families on rural islands or well-to-do attorney’s families, sexual assault and domestic violence are problems that end in tragedy when they aren’t addressed any other way. That’s still as true as it was when King wrote these books. And as it was before he wrote these books. And it shows no signs of going away. So, you know, maybe we need to be bitches about it.

I feel fairly sure I said in my last post that Gerald’s Game was good, but Dolores Claiborne was better. I stand by that. I’m not entirely sure why it’s better, but it is. It may just be that I like Dolores better than I like Jessie? I don’t dislike Jessie at all. But I’m sad to close the book on Dolores Claiborne because I keep wanting to hear Dolores talk, and I didn’t feel that way about Jessie.

Speaking of which, all Dolores does in this book is talk. Did I say that Gerald’s Game was mostly an internal monologue? Dolores Claiborne isn’t internal, but it is a monologue. Literally, the entire thing up until a few “articles” (a la Carrie) at the end is Dolores giving her statement to the police. All events are in the past, all dialog is her telling it as she remembers it. She addresses and answers the policemen and stenographer in the room with her, but we never read their questions or responses — just hers. There aren’t even chapters or section breaks. It’s just Dolores Claiborne talking, for hundreds of pages. And I still wanted more!

Because it’s just her talking, maybe we’re supposed to question whether she’s a reliable narrator. I think she is, though. We could decide that she killed Vera, but if she did, why would she start off by confessing to a murder she’d gotten away with? There’s no statute of limitations on murder — confessing to killing her husband and insisting she didn’t kill Vera could just as easily have gotten her charged with two murders. I think in real life, it probably would have. It makes more sense to me to take it at face value. She killed her husband, she didn’t kill Vera. Besides, I’m basing my opinion on my knowledge of King’s work as well, and his characters may lie to each other, but they don’t typically lie to us. And because of the way this story is structured, Dolores is really talking to us.

I don’t blame her, personally. I’d want to kill a husband who molested my daughter too. I can’t really say what I’d do in that situation — I’ve never been in it and hope to never be in it — but I don’t think there’s anything so wrong with being a bitch about that. Even a murderous bitch. What are you supposed to do as a mother if not protect your children, at all costs? Like Dolores said, “There’s no bitch on earth like a mother frightened for her kids.” I feel that. And when I compare Dolores to Sally Mahout (Jessie’s mother from Gerald’s Game) — well, Sally didn’t kill anyone, but I sure think Dolores comes out better in that comparison anyway. Maybe that’s one reason they saw each other — Jessie needed to see a mother who would protect her child, even if she didn’t know that’s what she was seeing. I believe Dolores would have protected her, too, if she’d been around to do so. Somebody should have.

I recall being annoyed on previous readings that the relationship between Dolores and Selena was so broken. Shouldn’t they have been close? Shouldn’t Selena have appreciated what her mother did for her? Now, though, the state of their relationship just strikes me as realistic. I think that’s probably what does happen much of the time, even without the murder. Abuse breaks families, and not just in one way or one direction. It shatters all kinds of relationships. It’s sad, and I still don’t like it, but I’m not mad at King for writing it, because it seems real. I’m mad at Joe St. George, and I’m mad at all the real-life abusers that he stands in for. This book makes me extremely mad at abusers, and abuse apologists. It makes me want to be that kind of bitch who won’t stand for that. Anywhere. It makes me want more bitches like that in the world.

There’s not much supernatural in this book. There’s the psychic connection between Dolores and Jessie Burlingame, but that’s not much more than a hiccup in the reality of the world. And there are Vera Donovan’s hallucinations. Are those real? Well… maybe they are and maybe they aren’t. I used to care for patients with dementia. It’s not that unusual for them to fixate on something random, to feel afraid for no apparent reason, or to try to get up and walk when they really can’t (which is super dangerous!) But we’re given the knowledge — not in so many words, but the implication is so strong that it may as well be — that Vera is a murderer herself, at least of her husband, so maybe the crushing guilt causes extra-strong fear and paranoia and that takes the form of hallucinations.

Or, because we’re in a King reality, maybe there are malevolent wires and dust bunnies that no one but Vera Donovan (and maybe, just a little, Dolores Claiborne) can see.

Dolores Claiborne is a movie as well as a book, and I’ve actually seen this one, though not in a very long time. My strongest memory of it is “Kathy Bates, wow”. She is just as good a Dolores Claiborne as she was an Annie Wilkes — or better — and I’d recommend watching it just for her. I don’t think the movie was a good as the book, but of course, a movie can’t just be a woman monologuing in a police station — not even Kathy Bates — so they had to make changes. I don’t remember it being a terrible adaptation. I just like the book better, no surprise there.

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