Riding With The King: Dolores Claiborne (1992)

dolores claiborneRight after not being super into The Gunslinger, I dove into Dolores Claiborne and basically tore through it as quickly as I could. I wasn’t sure if that would be the case when I read a little bit about the book and realized there were exactly no page or chapter breaks because it’s one woman’s account of the tragedies and triumphs of her life.

In this case, Dolores is talking to the cops in an effort to prove to them that she didn’t kill am old, rich lady named Vera whose house she cleaned for decades on a small Maine island that plays home to rich people who summer there. In doing so, she not only recounts the time she did commit murder — on her husband — and what really happened when Vera died.

You start off wanting to know what the deal with Vera is, but very quickly get sidetracked by the more epic tale of what drove this hardworking woman to take out her own husband. It comes to light that he REALLY deserved it, but even with that in mind, King does not let up when it comes to his graphic and drawn out death.

Equally graphic is Dolores’ account of Vera’s slow decline into mental instability which we find out towards the very end was actually a lot more complicated and self-deceptive than freaking out about dust bunnies and the like. And that secret reveal she’d been keeping all those years! It was a nice twist reveal that reshapes what you think of the subject pretty heavily.

I walked away from this one impressed with not only the success of King’s narrative experiment, but also his construction of this character who tells the kinds of stories I could listen to for twice as many pages. That whole lack of chapters really worried me because I’m usually a slow reader, but Dolores and King kept me super absorbed (thanks in part to the two different big mysteries that had their own sub mysteries) to the point where I knocked this one out in a few days.

Since I’ve now listened to Joyland and Revival and read Mr. Mercedes, Dark Tower and other previous novels like The Shining, Running Man, Under The Dome, Misery and ‘Salme’s Lot I feel like I’m getting an interesting view of his literary ticks and the themes he likes to tackle. This is the first of the books I’ve read that features a female narrator and while she’s not a writer, she’s a helluva story teller. In fact, her daughter is a writer!

There are a few allusions to King’s other works that stuck out to me, though I’m not sure how intentional they might have been. At one point, Dolores thinks of taking an axe to Vera which reminded me of The Shining (though now that I think about it, was that just the movie and not the source material?). In another part, Vera worries about not being able to get in and out of bed, which is the basic plot of both Misery and Gerald’s Game which shares connections to this one.

I also thought it was interesting that King revisited the idea of playing nurse to someone you don’t really like very much again much later in Revival. In both cases, the caretaker does so because he or she feels a connection to the person because of past events that’s strong enough to carry them through some pretty terrible treatment. For a time, I got a strange vibe that Dolores and Vera had a lower-stakes adversarial relationship along the same lines as The Gunslinger and Man in Black, but I’m not sure how well that carries through (especially because Vera helped Dolores in a variety of ways).

Finally, I couldn’t help but think of Charles Jacobs and his belief that the Secret Electricity in Revival would help him understand the fates of his wife and son when Dolores remembers the time that Vera got so excited about the eclipse as if it would bring her own children back from the dead. Though the two books feature wildly different amounts of the supernatural, the idea of humans deluding themselves or convincing themselves to believe what they want seems to be a major source of interest for the author!

Ooh, what a segue into “The Langoliers!” That’s what I read next from Four Past Midnight while I waited for a copy of Gerald’s Game to come from an ebay seller. Look for that review soon!

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