Book Review: Rose Madder by Stephen King

Book Review: Rose Madder by Stephen King

Rose Madder by Stephen King
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This is one of those King books I honestly didn’t expect much from. It’s not one commonly listed as a favorite, or even mentioned that frequently from among his works. I can’t say I would’ve thought to pick it up had I not been so invested in the extended reading list for the Dark Tower. But it was next on that list, so I found myself a copy. Now I’m incredibly glad I picked it up. Though not perfect, Rose Madder is now one of my favorite King novels outside of The Stand and the main Dark Tower series. Talk about a protagonist you can root for.

“It ain’t the blows we’re dealt that matter, but the ones we survive.”

Rose Daniels has had enough. After 14 years of extreme spousal abuse at the hands of her policeman husband, one drop of blood on a bed sheet is her catalyst for leaving this horrible half-life she’s been living and starting over somewhere new. Now Rosie is finally embarking on a life of her own, for the first time in her adult life. And it’s absolutely wonderful. But Norman Daniels refuses to let his wife go. He’s going to track her down. And when he finds her, he’s going to talk to her. Talk to her right up close. And he plans on it being the last conversation Rose ever has. However, there are odd powers at work here, and Norman is going to find this plan much more difficult to carry out than he ever imagined.

“The concept of dreaming is known to the waking mind but to the dreamer there is no waking, no real world, no sanity; there is only the screaming bedlam of sleep.”

Norman might just be the most despicable fictional character in the history of fiction. He’s one of the most disturbed, chauvinistic, narcissistic, deranged excuse for a human being in whose head I’ve ever had the displeasure of being. I found him appalling. But Rose, on the other hand, is possibly the best female character King has ever created. She feels incredibly real, and both her hopes and her terrible fears rang very true. The way she grows over the course of the novel made me want to cheer. Her resilience and optimism is inspiring.

“It’s best to be ruthless with the past.”

While I developed some deep feelings regarding both protagonist and antagonist, what really sold me on this book was the horror element. I’ve read a lot of King by this point, including most of his horror classics like The Shining and IT and ‘Salem’s Lot and Pet Sematary. There are portions of Rose Madder that I truly believe are just as freaky and disturbing as the aforementioned books. And the horror here felt different and original in ways that resonated with me. I won’t soon be forgetting the source of the novel’s title, or why there’s a bull skull on the cover.

“That’s really all art is about, I think, and not just pictures—it’s the same with books and stories and sculpture and even castles in the sand. Some things call to us, that’s all. It’s as if the people who made them were speaking inside our heads.”

I could never call King or his work underrated. But I do think Rose Madder deserves more attention than it gets. I loved seeing the ways in which it’s going to tie into the Tower, but even outside of those connections I found it a fantastic book. The only reason it’s a 4.5 star read for me instead of a full 5 is because Norman’s head was such a vile place to be, even though, thankfully, his perspective chapters were fewer and shorter than Rosie’s. Rose Madder is a great horror-laced thriller that will be in my head for a long time to come.

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