A review by tobin_elliott
Rose Madder by Stephen King

dark emotional mysterious tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


This is the official first book of my Great Stephen King Re-read, Part Two. 

A few years back, I read about the first twenty years of his novels and short story collections, from CARRIE straight through to INSOMNIA, skipping only the Dark Tower stuff, as I'll tackle that as a separate read all on its own. This time around, the plan is to tackle the next fifteen years and go from this novel straight through to UNDER THE DOME. 

Having said that, I started into this novel with a lot of trepidation, because, while I remembered the basic storyline about it, it wasn't one of his novels that really stuck with me, or left a lasting impression, in that I remember it being one of his "middling" novels. 

And it seems to be one of his more forgotten ones...never really mentioned much, never made into a movie. It feels like it just came and went and got overshadowed by his next, brilliant release.

Reading it for the second time, I find that kind of a sad fact, as this book is far better than I remember it being.

And it's strange that this novel never stuck with me, as there's two somewhat personal connections. The first is, Rose is stated to have been born in 1962, so she's the same age is me. The second, far more disconcerting connection—and one I would have been keenly aware of when I read it the first time around—is that her husband Norman...? 

Yeah, he's more violent, and he's more a biter, but mentally? Every diseased little thought I read that went through Norman's mind? All the thoughts about homosexuals and non-whites, and Jews and everyone else that crossed his eye of judgement? But most especially, Norman's views on women?

Yeah, Norman could have been modeled straight off my own father. 

So, for those reasons, at least initially, this novel truly grabbed me and frightened me and sickened me. Forty years after his death, I felt like I was hanging out with my father for a few hundred pages.

But the book would need to have far more than that to keep me going. And this novel delivers. It's easily one of King's nastiest, most horrible, and horrifyingly real, villains, and I wonder if it was more than readers were used to from King and that's why this one never attained the status of some of his others. But King also delivers on the compelling story and character of Rose. Yes, she tends to get fantastic lucky break after lucky break, making the book a little too much fantasy, a touch too much to fully suspend disbelief.

But still, the story that King constructs in harrowing. The only false note, for me at least was the extended first trip into the painting. I know it's required for the end, but it did tend to drag on a little too long.

But overall, I have to say, reading this novel almost thirty years later?

It's so much better than I ever gave it credit for.