Published by Hodder and Stoughton on January 1st 1995
Roused by a single drop of blood, Rosie Daniels wakes up to the chilling realization that her husband is going to kill her. And she takes flight - with his credit card.
Alone in a strange city, Rosie begins to build a new life: she meets Bill Steiner and she finds an odd junk shop painting, 'Rose Madder', which strangely seems to want her as much as she wants it.
But it's hard for Rosie not to keep looking over her shoulder. Rose-maddened and on the rampage, Norman is a corrupt cop with a dog's instinct for tracking people. And he's getting close. Rosie can feel just how close he's getting...
Last week I was lucky enough to spend my 7th anniversary with the Hubs on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The house was lovely, the price divine- the Hub’s co-worker let us use it! Thanks, Pam!- and better yet it came with a fully stocked book shelf.
I love vacation rentals equipped with books. I’ve discovered some really great authors and stories quite by accident. Plus I love the idea of a non-reader picking up a book out of boredom and transforming into a book lover. I don’t have the statistics on that, but let’s pretend it happens at least every once and awhile. And I also love finding an old friend hidden amongst the dusty tomes.
Now I own a lot of Stephen King books, I love finding them in hardback at garage sales and on ebay, and a few of them I even have multiple copies (more on that at a later post). But there are a few I’ve lost to numerous moves and book loans or ones that I just never got around to purchasing. One of these books is Rose Madder. I remember reading it way back when I was still in high school, but all I remembered was that it was a story of an abused woman who gets an unusual painting at a pawn shop. How I can remember the basic plots of books I read 18+ years ago and yet can’t remember more that a few sentences of Spanish that I took for 3 whole years remains a mystery.
There, on the shelves of our little house on the bay (which really needs a Vacation Home Name like The Crow’s Nest, or Paradise Shades) was a copy of Rose Madder. The other two books I brought on the 3 day getaway were immediately pushed away. Since the house belonged to a friend of ours and I had no book to replace it, I had to finish Rose Madder while on vacation and leave it behind for the next lucky house guest.
I began reading it Monday, and by that evening a we had a storm blow through. Reading the book and hearing the wind beat against a strange, unknown house freaked me out. But in a good way.
Rose Madder is the story of a woman in a horribly abusive relationship, to make matters worse her husband is a cop. One day a drop of blood on the pillow wakes Rose out the fog of abuse and numbness she has been trapped in and gives her the incentive to run. She doesn’t plan it, but just runs, taking nothing with her but her purse and her husband’s bank card. She only uses the card once, to withdraw $300, then throws it away- not because she thinks he’ll use it to track her but rather because she feels tremendous guilt over having taken it. Taking the bus to a large, strange city Rose is lucky enough to meet a man who points her in the direction of a woman’s shelter called Daughters and Sisters. It’s there she goes from being the abused Rose to the more independent Rosie. Of course psycho husband is most displeased with his wayward wife.
Rose works hard to heal both physically (years of abuse have hurt her back and injured her kidneys) and emotionally. She saves enough money to get her own apartment and in one day she not only meets a new guy, but buys a painting in his pawn shop that depicts a woman with her back turned and wearing a gown the color of Rose Madder. She also gets a job reading books for audio recordings. Rose is really, finally, living. But it’s not long before she realizes that the painting is changing, coming to life. At the same time her husband is drawing nearer, no longer just an abusive husband but also a cold hearted killer. Caught in the paths of two crazy forces, Rose will either break completely or emerge triumphantly.
For me this book was an easy read, I was totally engrossed in Rose’s story and I thought King did a good job of explaining not only why she stayed with her husband for so long, but also what finally made her leave. The reveal that her husband Norman was more than just a wife beater was gradual, and perhaps his final insanity was a bit over the top, but he was a man that had gotten away with so much for so long and no longer cared about anything but finding Rose and punishing her. The woman’s shelter, Daughters & Sisters, and its inhabitants are also intriguing, and I hope that there are places just like it for abused women all over the world.
Rose Madder fits right up there with the Dark Tower series and Insomnia, and even features a little bit of Misery– Rose is reading one of Paul Sheldon’s books during a particularly memorable beating from Norman. If you’re already a Stephen King fan then you’ll no doubt enjoy this book, for non King fans I’d start off with something lighter less dense like Misery or Carrie. If you hate Stephen King books then read his Eyes of the Dragon, it’s a fairy tale for grownups (and yes, it will be featured in a later post).