Stephen King has often been accused of wasting his talent to write horror instead of writing serious literature. With “Rose Madder” (Viking; 1995), King shows that the true horror lies not in monsters or ghouls, but in humanity’s capacity for cruelty. Although “Rose Madder” does deal with supernatural elements, the real horror story is a tale of a sadistic policeman who beats his wife.
The story opens with the wife, Rose Daniels, finally deciding to walk out of the door. It’s a sudden decision and an extremely realistic one. Both men and women will tolerate years of abuse from a partner, thinking it’s a normal way of life, and then it only takes one sudden lightning bolt of a moment to realize the trouble you are in and that you have to get out immediately.
How Would I Know?
I know because that happened to me. Both my alcoholic significant other and I were Stephen King fans, but I had never read “Rose Madder” upon the advice of my partner (although he did recommend “Dolores Claiborne” to me, oddly enough, which also deals with the issue of domestic violence.) He insisted it was one of King’s weaker books and that the best thing about it were the words “The End”. I shrugged it off and decided not to read the book because it wasn’t worth setting my partner off.
That wasn’t the epiphany I had, but it should have been. It wasn’t until a couple of years later when he hit my four moth old puppy for peeing on the carpet that I suddenly had the epiphany. I scooped up my pup, threw a few things in a rucksack and never looked back. Rose Daniel’s epiphany, flight and fear of being tracked down by her vengeful husband were all too chillingly realistic.
King tends to mention some of his previous books in his novels, and “Rose Madder” is no exception. For example, Rose has a flashback where she recalls getting beaten simply because she was reading a book from the Misery Chastain series which was featured in King’s best seller “Misery” (Viking; 1987).
There are also the almost obligatory references to the Dark Tower series which infects most of King’s books, but the references are fleeting. “Rose Madder” stands up enough on its own, so that you not need to read any of the Dark Tower books to figure out what’s going on.
And that’s the big strength of this book. It’s a compelling story in and of itself even if you haven’t been through an abusive relationship. There are three dimensional characters with the incredible dialogue that King is known for. Theirs is also the mystery of a painting that moves. Haven’t we all looked at a favourite painting or poster so long that we are sure it moved?