Overly disappointing and rather bland, one of the latest from horror master Stephen King is an attempt to blend mythological-tinged fantasy with events of an everyday world. While his previous Dark Tower series (which I still await the completion of) does similar, combing fantasy and fiction together through a weave of lifelike reality, his attempt at doing so in Rose Madder turned out to be one of worst works yet. I can only hope he pooped this one out for the sole purpose of finishing a contract so that he may return to the world of Roland and continue the saga of the Dark Tower.
It's not easy for me to say that something written by King is crap. Truly it is. I've been reading King for years, decades even. He's had dozens of books and stories turned into movies with varying results, but just about all his works up until now held some degree of merit. He built stories upon each other, blending them into the same landscape the way that Lovecraft and his followers did. Not to the same degree, of course, but if you'll look carefully enough you'll notice correlations in characters, history and other details from one novel to the other in many cases. Take Flagg for instance - Flagg first appeared many years ago in his fantasy novel, Eyes of the Dragon. He's also appeared in The Stand and The Dark Tower.
Rose Madder is a stand-alone, not sharing qualities with any of his other works. He has quite a few of those too, but this time it should crawl away rather than stand alone. The story of a physically abused housewife who finally finds the courage to just up and leave one day and try to start over. Already you're wondering if this is a Stephen King book, yes? I assure you, I've double checked the cover a few times myself during the course of this 550+ page novel.
There are two main problems that stick in my craw over Rose Madder. First, after leaving the housewife finds a place to stay and does some shopping, and in a small curio shop she finds a painting. And suddenly we're revisiting old episodes of Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. Even bringing back memories of Through the Looking Glass / Alice In Wonderland and short clips by Poe. This is the first problem - it's nothing new. Woman finds picture. Woman goes through picture into another world. Picture helps woman destroy her adversaries. Much like my commentary after watching the recent movie Mission To Mars, all I can say is - it's been done before. And much better than this, even.
Now the second point of contention - King is a pulp author. Modern, quick, descriptive only to a degree. As a pulp author he can take certain license that classic authors would never take. One of the most notable is the misspelling of words in order to push a certain pronunciation. Rather than write "ghost" one would write "GOOOOsssssst" for example. King has always done this. In the past he's used it sparingly. ThroughoutRose Madder, it's consistent. So consistent in fact that I think he should have this license revoked. It starts looking damn silly.
In short, and one thing that Rose Madder isn't is short - it's quite plodding actually - I found this new stand-alone novel by King to be quite under par with his previous works. Borrowing too much from other people's storylines, embellishing it with childish misspellings (maybe he needs a break from screen plays?) and being rather predictable very early on, I'd pass this one up. If you're a die-hard King fan you'll get it - you always do. But for once take my advice and don't buy it. Maybe Stephen will take the hint and finally stop farting out this crap and go back to Roland and The Dark Tower.
"Rose Madder" by Stephen
Published by Viking Press
Copyright © 1996 by Stephen King