Monday, October 31, 2011

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin

Title: Rosemary's Baby
Author: Ira Levin
Publisher: Random House (1967)

As we head into our holiday break, Michael had the superb idea that we re-visit the horror genre for Halloween. This book was sitting in my Kindle just waiting for a read so I was happy to queue up this spooky title. Having an excuse to watch the movie again was also quite appealing. Speaking of the movie...

I think I first saw this movie when I was 12 and I had no idea it was based on a book. I remember being creeped out but I had no other memories of it (I'll leave comments re my new memories of it for Michael's blog). A couple weeks ago I was chatting with my neighbors about books (as we often do) and Ira Levin came up. Later that evening, I downloaded Rosemary's Baby on my Kindle. It wasn't until Michael suggested it for a joint post that I started it up. The Kindle edition included a very nice introduction that got me pretty excited about trying out my first Levin. Turns out, the book is very educational (see bullet points below (yeah, I geeked out:)).

**this review includes SPOILERS**

Rosemary and her douchebag partner husband are moving into their dream apartment. A close friend warns that the building has a seedy past but the happy couple aren't about to let the past or superstition ruin their domestic bliss. Even the nosy old couple down the hall isn't going to ruin the tedium fun of covering closet shelves with gingham contact paper. With hubby's career taking off and a baby on the way, the Woodhouses are ready to settle in for the time of their lives. It's at about this time that Rosemary's education begins.

1. Don't accept food from strangers

There are multiple instances of food from the neighbors being a terrible idea but if you eat a dessert with a weird "under taste," then get dizzy and have psycho dreams of the devil sexually assaulting you it's time to say no thanks.

2. Don't trust doctors who tell you not to read books

Levin does a wonderful job of interweaving the mundane with the ominous. One might eventually weary of Rosemary listing her domestic tasks but there's no doubt they underscore the small signs of mischief at play in the building. In addition to this, there is the constant feeling of Man Control over everything. In general, Rosemary tends to cede control to the men in her life but as the story progresses the oppression that results from her lack of independent thought made my skin crawl. How she can accept the judgements of a doctor who tells her not to read is beyond me. These aspects of the story, I think, were uniquely suited to the time when the book was published. They lend an extra layer of creepy that was, for me, even more affecting than the satanism.

3. Don't introduce your friends to your creepy neighbors

Rosemary has a father-figure/mentor who, like any rational human being, becomes suspicious of the creepy neighbors and the prenatal care Rosemary is getting. His suspicions are not lost on the neighbors and he conveniently falls into a coma shortly after meeting one of them. Unfortunately, Rosemary is not yet ready to accept all the signs of crazy around her.

4. Don't allow other people to make all your decisions

Rosemary's instincts are screaming at her that something is wrong and yet she continues to let the people around her brow beat her into doing what they want (admittedly, Satanists are probably pretty convincing, power of the Devil and all that).

5. Don't lose your independence

When things are going well Rosemary doesn't give much thought to how dependent she is on her husband. However, when the shit starts to hit the fan she doesn't have many options. I admired that she seemed to wake from her Do Whatever I'm Told stupor but she'd basically painted herself into a corner by the time she realized she needed to get out.

6. Don't marry self-involved, callous jerk-faces

Guy is an absolute piece of work. What a pig! Levin does a fantastic job with his character, though. The unraveling of Guy mirrors Rosemary's discovery of the Satan worshipers down the hall. There are hints early of Guy's creep factor (just as there are hints that all is not right with the neighbors) but they can be chalked up to contemporary social mores. As the story progresses it becomes more and more clear that Guy isn't exactly a catch. At first I had a really hard time accepting how quickly he sold out his family to the cult but it eventually becomes clear that all he brought to his marriage was a sense of humor and a giant ego. This naturally increases the sense of isolation Rosemary feels as she approaches the end of her pregnancy and heightens the feeling of impending doom for the reader. 

This certainly is not a perfect book but I was quickly absorbed by the pacing and plot. There are several layers of creepy that allow the reader to easily feel Rosemary's dread and I really enjoyed that (even if my teeth were often grinding because of Guy and the Man Control - I'm assuming that was intentional and it worked!). It's quite the page turner despite the fact that this is not even remotely action packed. That comes, as mentioned above, from Levin's admirable mingling of the everyday with the horrific.

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Click here for an index of the joint post series

Monday, October 24, 2011

Stuff I Wanted to Like

 Brief notes on stuff I really wanted to like but, ultimately, did not:

The Kingdom of Gods by N. K. Jemisin is the final installment in her Inheritance Trilogy. I am a big fan of the first two and so looked very much forward to the finale. I could not have been more predisposed to like this book so I was pretty sad to find myself checking out before I even hit the 100 page mark. If I did not already have a history of fangirling over this author I would not have finished it.

- Jemisin's deftness in writing believable and complicated relationships
- world building continuity and expansion

- the meandering nature of the plot
- the quickness of Sieh's obsession with the twins (actually much about Sieh's character did not work for me so I re-read the first two books to try to understand better why that was - I think I just had a completely different take on his character and where he would end up)
- how rushed the writing/editing job felt as compared to the first two (if you played a drinking game with the "i/she/he blinked" description in place of other ways to describe "surprise" you would get very drunk indeed)

Empress by Shan Sa is a book I came by at a book sale and picked up because I thought the cover was so beautiful. 

It's about China's only ruling empress (Tang Dynasty, 7th Century). I love historical fiction and I especially love to come by historical fiction not set in Britain or France.

- fantastic period rendering, places literally sprang to life for me
- she wrote what felt like very authentic philosophies/feelings for rulers and a ruling family, there was absolutely no apology for the ruthlessness needed to remain in power
- as I understand it, this is a different take on a much maligned woman and alternate views of history are important imo

- writing was just a bit too flowery for me (written originally in French, author is expat living in France)
- i got really bored when the focus moved away from the demands of ruling and seemed to hang out in the naval gazing arena

Red Riding Hood is a movie that looked like it had some potential. Unfortunately, it ended up being a great idea with extremely poor execution.

- a determined heroine who is comfortable in her mind and body
- supportive female characters. it's so rare that a heroine gets to have a mom, grandma and girlfriends who are positive and caring
- HUGE SPOILER, highlight if interested: her dad is the werewolf and super excited to pass on the family legacy to his eldest daughter. no moaning about how she should have been a son or making due with daughters. he loved his daughters and wanted to share his life with them. how refreshing.

- poor directing, lackluster script, lack of chemistry b/n actors
- offensive casting: i don't know the origins of red riding hood but this was pretty clearly set in The Days of Yore in n. europe. It makes a lot of sense then that the village is filled with caucasians and that the visiting priest is also caucasian. However, when the priest's werewolf fighting force is comprised almost entirely of people of African and Asian descent it is nonsensical and offensive.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever by Julia Quinn is not a fun romp told through the enjoyable construct of diary entries. I am mentioning this book as a warning that it's not at all interesting. Just a heads up if it should be on your list. You won't miss anything by taking it off.