Rose Madder (1995) – Stephen King

Title: Rose Madder
Author: Stephen King
Date published: 1995
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Star Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

To write about this novel is to write about a novel that resonated with me personally. One of King’s most topical novels deals with domestic violence in a way that only King is capable of. With a touch of raw emotion and a smattering of the supernatural Rose Madder touches on the intense fear and isolation that comes from being involved with another person who manages to keep you locked in a cycle of your own self-loathing. In this case we are introduced to Rosie McClendon, our protagonist whose marriage is the stuff of nightmares. She is married to a man called Norman (as in Bates) Daniels whose monstrous qualities have made him appear less human over the years. His abuse towards Rosie became so bad that there were times when reading about the certain level of abuse Rosie goes through is almost too difficult to swallow. King has always been very good at creating human monsters, and Norman is the most monstrous of all.

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When Rosie finally plucks up the courage to run away we wait with bated breath for her to be caught but it doesn’t happen. She manages to escape and finds help and encouragement from a group of people at a shelter called Daughters and Sisters. Here she befriends some pretty amazing women who each have their own battles and experiences to work through. Her time away from Norman is unbelievably healing and we cheer and root for Rosie, but there is still this weirdly dark shadow over her life that won’t seem to go away. The novel seems to possess a shadow that is beyond words, and it lurks there throughout Rosie’s attempt at a new life, which includes eventually leaving Daughters and Sisters. Anna, the owner of the shelter helps her find a room to rent, and now all she needs is a bit of money.

One day she walks into Liberty City Loan and Pawn shop intent on finally selling her engagement ring. A ring that Norman convinced her was so expensive she was made to believe for years that it was pretty much worth more than she was. This obnoxious symbol needed to go and upon realization that it was not worth anything at all, Rosie trades it for a painting she sees in the store (or “the painting that saw her”). This painting of a woman standing on a hill was

“not much different from pictures mouldering away in pawnshops , curio shops and roadside bargain bins… but it filled her eyes and her mind with the sort of clean, revelatory excitement that belongs only to the works of art that deeply move us – the song that made us cry, the story that made us see the world clearly from another’s perspective, at least for awhile, the poem that made us glad to be alive, the dance that made us forget for a few minutes that someday we will not be”.

Rosie’s rather intense reaction to the painting causes her to think only of the new space she will soon be renting and that this is officially the first new thing that she has bought for her new home. In fact this is the first time she will have a home all of her own. It is Bill Steiner, the shop owner’s son who is there to give her the bad news about her ring, and he is also the man who sells her ‘the painting’, a painting without an artist’s signature except for the words ‘Rose Madder’ written in charcoal on the back. Whilst she is making the trade she also meets a man named Rob Lefferts who offers her a job after hearing her read out loud from a paperback novel outside the pawn shop. Her new job is to read novels that will be converted into audio books (or books on tape as they used to be called). Suddenly Rosie has a new job and a new home and a painting that will be the most surprising of all.

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As Rosie attempts to build a new life for herself under the watchful eye of her new painting, there is also the possibility of Norman discovering her which continues to loom over her every move. In true Stephen King style nothing will ever be exactly as it seems, and soon Rosie will have to learn that not only monsters can be real, but that worlds other than our own are also just as possible.

More Stephen King:

Different Seasons (1982) – Stephen King

IT – Stephen King (1986)

Under the Dome (2009) – Stephen King

The Shining (1980)

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