Rose Madder is another one that’s not generally a favorite across the wide world of King fans, and I think he’s said in the past that it’s his least-read book. The thing is, I don’t think it’s bad at all, in fact I like it, but I just don’t have a lot of notes. Maybe that’s what makes it a least-read, unfavorite kind of book. It’s just unremarkable. That sounds very strange to say, given the fantastic elements and the Dark Tower links. The city of Lud appears in this book, for Pete’s sake! And yet…
Rose Madder fits in what I’ve been thinking of as the domestic violence trilogy, also including Jessie Burlingame from Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne from her eponymous book. Although having read in publication order this time, I’m thinking maybe you could add Helen Deepnau to the list — she doesn’t quite fit the pattern, not being a POV character, but Insomnia was certainly a lot about the domestic violence she experienced as well as the abortion issue, which is wrapped up with domestic violence and other so-called “women’s issues” in a lot of ways.
Norman Daniels is an intensely frightening character, I will give him that. A little too frightening, in fact. If I have a philosophical criticism of this book, I’d say that if you read it in a vacuum, I’d almost think the author is trying to tell us that if you want to consider a person abusive, they have to be as bad as Norman, and if a person is going to be considered a victim of domestic violence, they have to be as blameless, inoffensive, and timid as Rose. I don’t actually think that’s what King is trying to say — all his other work and even some of the other characters here mitigate against that narrow viewpoint. But it is a viewpoint that you do come across and taken all by itself, this book could suggest agreement with it. So, just in case, let me say it — a partner doesn’t need to be as bad as Norman to be abusive. Your partner should never hit you or hurt you, and even if they don’t put you in the hospital or cause long-term damage, it can still be abuse. And you never deserve to be hit or hurt, even if you do the things that Rose doesn’t in the beginning, like talk back, or fight back. It looks especially awful to have a character as incredibly strong and violent as Norman beating up on someone as passive and timid as Rose, but it’s bad any time a person is abusive, even if the abusive person is small and skinny and the abused party mouths off and fights back.
OK, that said, my original point was that Norman really was terrifying. Not only as a husband, but also as a cop — I think that, while it was obvious that being a cop was part of the issue and part of his problem, the resonance of that fact may have gone up in recent years. Because how many cops like this are out there? The domestic violence rates in cops’ families are actually pretty high, compared to the general population. And if they do this kind of thing to their families, what are they doing to the people they interact with? Well — we know, don’t we? At least we know some of it. We see it on camera now. There are real-life Wendy Yarrows out there, for sure.
And what happens to Norman is also pretty damn scary. What happened to Rose in the end, not so much — I think I might have liked her better if she hadn’t fallen for the first guy to show up with flowers after she left her husband. You can just be single, Rosie! It’s fine. I mean, there’s not really anything wrong with Rose and Bill’s ending, but it’s so… traditional. Replace the bad man with a good man, shake and bake, and serve. I feel like he could have done something more interesting with her. I really didn’t need Bill Steiner at all.
There was supposed to be a film adaptation of this book about 10 years ago, but didn’t work out and apparently never got picked back up. I’m not too surprised. I feel like if you take out the supernatural element, this story has been done repeatedly on the big screen and the small one. And I’m not sure if any of the kind of people who have done that sort of movie would be good at meshing the supernatural element into the story. If someone did manage it, I’d like to see it, but I have a hard time imagining it done well — this just seems like the type of King story that’s waiting to be screwed up somehow, you know?
What this book did do was introduce some really good non-main characters. One of them, in fact, was so good that she’s going to show up again a couple of times very soon — that would be Cynthia. I liked her here and I remember liking her in the places that she shows up in the future, so I’ll be waiting for that.