Published by Viking on 1995
Genres: Fiction, Horror, Thrillers
A magical painting, a deranged abusive husband and a menacing bull can all be found in Stephen King’s, Rose Madder. Overall, I enjoyed this novel. It is a unique entry in King’s bibliography. Rose Madder reads as a thriller, with some magical elements, inspired by Greek mythology. Norman Daniels might be the most evil and terrifying villain King has written. This was a fun read that I’d place in the middle tier of my King rankings.
Rose Madder begins with a brutal prologue that details a violent moment of domestic abuse between Rosie and her husband, Norman. The novel picks up years later, on the day Rosie decides she’s had enough. While Norman, who is a cop, is away at work, Rosie steals his bank card and leaves, hoping to never return. Upon arriving at a new city, Rosie finds refuge at the Daughters and Sisters Shelter and eventually finds a job and apartment. Meanwhile, Norman is hell-bent on locating Rosie and getting his revenge. The magical elements of the story come into play when Rosie finds a painting that catches her eye at a consignment store. However, the painting ends up being more than it seems.
I really enjoyed the tension that King maintained throughout the book. I was scared for Rosie as Norman closed in on her location. There were passages that had me at the edge of my seat. My favorite character in the story was Gert, another woman at the shelter. Gert teaches the women self defense and is the key character in my favorite scene. Norman was a great villain you love to hate. The passages told from Norman’s perspective were so disturbing and twisted. I felt unsettled reading those. I also enjoyed all the Greek mythology King wove into the story.
The magical sections of the book felt jarringly placed. It didn’t feel like I was reading the same book at times. I wish King had more smoothly integrated the magical elements into the real-world sections.
I have two problems with Rose Madder that I’d like to see reworked if it’s ever adapted for the screen (spoilers to follow). Norman Daniels is a twisted, evil man. For some reason King decided to add gay elements to his violent tendencies. King also suggests that Norman’s behavior originates from his dad molesting him when he was young. The gay serial killer trope is overdone and harmful. One does not become gay because they were molested by someone of the same sex and gay people are not any more likely to be serial killers than anyone else. Norman Daniels would have been plenty terrifying and deplorable without the addition of these gay elements. My second gripe is with the role of the black woman in the painting. This woman is one of the few black characters in the novel She appears to be Wendy (a previous victim of Norman). In the painting she acts as a servant to the blonde women. The optics of this are not good.
I enjoyed my time with Rose Madder. I find this to be one of King’s most unique novels. I had no clue where he was going with the painting and enjoyed the book’s suspense.
Trigger Warnings: Domestic Abuse, Miscarriage, Lots of Violence