Stephen King once famously proclaimed himself the Big Mac and fries of literature — meaning his works are popular and enjoyable, albeit perhaps lacking in nourishment. I heartily disagree with that assessment, for the most part. Novels such as IT, Dolores Claiborne, and The Dead Zone are intricate, multi-layered masterstrokes; methinks King is too modest in regards to his own creations.
However. . . the Maine author's observation does hold true in a few select cases. Christine is a barrel of fun, but it certainly offers no depth. That's cool. King's 1983 novel about a haunted car is campy horror at its campiest. I think I would put Rose Madder in the Big Mac and fries category, too: while fun and involving, one comes away feeling full but perhaps not particularly satisfied.
This is a brutal, hard-edged tale of spousal abuse, escape, and recovery. The main character is Rose, a woman dealt physical and mental trauma from her husband for fourteen years. Rose Madder is her journey to self-discovery and freedom. Like previous novels Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne, King takes an unflinching and daring look at femininity and what it takes to be a woman in the modern age. And, for the most part, he succeeds.
Perhaps my biggest problem with this story is not the infamous magical painting Rose escapes into (a plot point that didn't work for me the first time around, but I had a bit more fun with it on this reread), but Norman — the abusive husband. This dude is so over-the-top it's unreal. King is a master at creating despicable, terrifying humans; it's nothing short of fascinating that he failed so completely with Norman. He's a walking cliche, and King never takes the time to give the reader any reason to sympathize with him. He's just CRAAAAAAAAAYYYYYY from literally page one, and he only gets worse. Because of that, much of this novel's potential menace is lost. Shame.
That said, the mythological elements of this novel . . . are interesting. They don't always work, and sometimes they seem awkwardly juxtaposed with the woman-on-the-run thriller feel, but it's whatever. King would explore escaping into an alternate, mythic world to better effect in Lisey's Story.
Rose Madder is Stephen King at his most average. While containing interesting ideas, some captivating prose (especially that prologue — sheeeeesh!), and a serviceable main character in Rose, this novel just feels tired, inessential. At times I got the sense King was getting bored with the story, and was ready to finish the damn thing. Recommended, but perhaps only for King completists.
There are a few tangential connections to Dark Tower, such as references to ka and the City of Lud.
Paul Sheldon of Misery fame gets a few generous shoutouts.
"In that instant she knew what it must feel like to cross a river into a foreign country, and then set fire to the bridge behind you, and stand on the riverbank, watching and breathing deeply as your only chance of retreat went up in smoke.”
I thought Desperation was next, but I forgot The Green Mileexists. Ha!
Five stars for one of my very favorite Stephen King stories: the enthralling and legendary 1993 novel, Dolores Claiborne.
As old as this book is, and considering it was made into a big budget film starring Kathy Bates (my favorite King adaption, by the way), almost everyone knows the plot — so I won't rehash too much. But I will say this is the story of a woman — easily the strongest woman King has ever created, and simply one of the best damn female main characters I've ever come across in fiction. This is her story — her confessional — all told in first-person, in Maine dialect. The writing style is unique, something most authors wouldn't have been able to pull off . . . but King isn't most authors. Novels like this one are why he is my favorite writer, full stop.
There is so much I want to say about this book and I find I can't really say much at all. A complex, taut, fast-paced domestic thriller/drama/mystery, this ranks among King's most un-put-downable and intriguing. defy any reader to finish the story and not think of Dolores from time to time.
A classic. A must-read. Etc.
"In the fifties... when they had their summer parties - there were always different colored lanterns on the lawn... and I get the funniest chill. In the end the bright colors always go out of life, have you noticed that? In the end, things always look gray, like a dress that's been washed too many times.”
Several references to Shawshank prison are mentioned.
On page 226, Dolores is driving home on the day of the eclipse and takes note of the deserted roads — she comments on how hey reminded her of "that small town downstate" where it is rumored "no one lives there anymore." A reference to 'Salem's Lot? I'll say maybe.
This is the 'sister' novel of Gerald's Game. Both books' most crucial moments take place on the day of the eclipse.
It's a world of color, a world of darkness . . . It's Insomnia.
Gerald's Gameis a brutal, exhausting read. With this 1992 novel Stephen King did the impossible: he wrote a harrowing, haunting novel about one woman trapped in a room . . . and he managed to make it so damn interesting! Not only that, I feel this is King's scariest work. That's subjective, of course, but it's the opinion of this humble reviewer.
Jessie and Gerald Burlingame have gone up to their summer cabin on Dark Score Lake in the middle of October for a weekend getaway. The community is almost empty — the summer people have long gone home — and the couple plan to spend a lot of time in bed. Gerald is a fan of bondage and Jessie is not. He forces her into handcuffs and she kicks him, her overweight, middle-aged husband, in the stomach and testicles. Hubby drops dead, and Jessie is alone, chained to the bed . . . with no means of escape. And that's chapter one!
This is the mother of character studies. Over 400 pages or so, by way of flashbacks and inner voices, King deeply explores Jessie's psyche and what it means to be a strong woman in this macho, male-oriented world. When I think of Gerald's Game, the word I immediately associate with it is 'brave'. Stephen King could have rested on his laurels: he had become known for creating small towns only to burn them down by novel's end; he was known for traditional horror tropes like ghosts and vampires and aliens. Don't get me wrong — in King's hands, all those things became new and invigorated once more, but this novel shows the horror master turning a corner in his writing. What would follow is a string of novels unafraid to poke and prod at highly sensitive, current social issues, all featuring some of the damn best character work of the man's career.
All that said, this novel is not without its faults. On the whole it is very good, but it is too wordy at times; repetitive, too. And the ending overstays its welcome, I fear. I feel the novel would have been stronger had it ended with Jessie in the Mercedes, and perhaps a brief epilogue added on a'la Pet Sematary. What the reader is instead given is sixty or seventy pages of largely unnecessary wrap-up.
This will never be top King, for me, but it's a fine novel all the same.
"“If anyone ever asks you what panic is, now you can tell them: an emotional blank spot that leaves you feeling as if you've been sucking on a mouthful of pennies."
The Burlingames' cabin is on Dark Score Lake, which would loom large over King's '90s output, especially Bag of Bones.
The towns of Chamberlain (Carrie) and Castle Rock (several short stories and novels) are mentioned in the novel's final chapters. Jessie muses on the fire that happened in Castle Rock "about a year ago," which is a direct reference to the events of Needful Things's climax.
This novel is, of course, the fraternal twin of Dolores Claiborne, but I will discuss that connection in depth when reviewing that novel.