Review: Rose Madder

 

4/5

 

 

A small event in the battered life of Rose Madder makes her reach a decision: Leave her violently abusive husband of fourteen years, or stay until he kills her…

King rates this as one of his least favourite books, for some reason. I didn’t see that at all. Much as Rose does, I’ve known a woman leave her abusive partner with nothing but the clothes she’s wearing. I know the absolute, not-all-heroes-wear-capes quality bravery it takes to do that. The terror of him that made her twitch every time a car drove by. For me, this story seems pretty spot on.

It shines through the writing that he wants to give Rose a chance.

King grants Rose with bravery, strength of character, modesty and grace. He clearly has nothing but respect for her, and utter contempt (as we do as readers) for the husband chasing her. It shines through the writing that he wants to give Rose a chance, and a happy ending. Well…not quite a happy ending. Rose doesn’t escape without scars she can’t help rubbing her hands over.

So far, so faultless. Rose is one of the best female characters King has created, right up there for me with Dolores Claiborne. The same for her backup posse of characters. Her friend Gert gets a chance to kick ass late in the book, and I practically cheered.

But that didn’t seem like enough: He also has to make Rose’s husband Norman completely beyond redemption, so far into a villain that he almost becomes a caricature. So he not only hates women, but is homophobic, racist and psychopathic. Every bad character trait is poured into Norman. It’s not hard to hate Norman, but Norman is a walking stereotype. Subtler characterisation might have made more complex.

King doesn’t feel confident enough to give us the ending we want.

This is a book about strong women, but King doesn’t feel confident enough to give us the ending we want: We want Rose to kick Norman’s ass, we want Rose to find a way to be rid of him forever. Instead, we’re given a substitute from another dimension. It is another woman (sort of) who takes care of Norman, and that woman is a metaphorical twin. But it’s the not the same.

In the climax, Rose believes she’s empowered by a trinket she discovered in that other dimension. Sometime later, she discovers the trinket wasn’t with her. The power is in her all along is the not so subtle message.

Rose demonstrated over the past three hundred pages that’s she capable, she’s resourceful, she’s more than brave. Give her the freedom to solve her own problems when push comes to shove, Mr King!

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