Dolores Claiborne, by Stephen King
Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman’s got to hold on to.
No matter what I do, I always seem to end up with a Stephen King novel in hands, probably because of the slim chance of being disappointed and, although there are some exceptions, Dolores Claiborne further proves Stephen King to be a great storyteller and master character builder. I never thought an uneducated, self-professed loudmouth 65 year-old can be so interesting before I read Dolores Claiborne.
Vera Donovan, the rich and senile old lady, has died a very suspicious death for a bedridden person – falling down the stairs. Dolores Claiborne, her housekeeper for the last 40 years, is the prime suspect in what appears to be a murder case and is therefore called in for questioning. Although claiming innocence in the case of Vera’s death, Dolores admits right from the start to the killing of Joe St. George (her husband) 30 years ago, whose death was up until now considered an accident. Two themes arise in Dolores’ monologue / confession – the events that lead to Joe’s death, and her relationship with Vera.
Dolores is a strong, hard-working woman that tries to raise her children with practically no support from Joe, their drunken father. When she finds out that Joe has been molesting Selena, their daughter, she tries to leave him as soon as possible. In doing so, Dolores discovers that Joe withdrew all the money from the children’s accounts that she alone has constantly put money into, with the intent on sending them to college when they grow up. Without having the means to leave him, she decides (at Vera’s suggestion) that, should Joe have an accident, it would solve both her problems at once – he could not molest Selena anymore, and she would inherit the money he stole for himself. Putting her plan into action makes up for the rest of the action in King’s novel.
If there is one thing that King does best, is to create strong, believable characters that the reader easily connects to. Dolores Claiborne features some action and narrative, sure, but what makes the book great is the characters themselves, particularly Dolores and Vera. The relationship between the two equally strong-willed women is the most important aspect of the book, as it not only proves Dolores’ innocence to the reader, but also makes a touching depiction of the bonding of two lonely souls. Vera is a mean, senile and sometimes evil person that truly enjoys making others miserable, particularly Dolores and her employees, but is also alike Dolores in many other ways – stubborn, independent, smart, and alone.
Stephen King also touches on the woman’s role in the American male-centered society of the early part of the previous century. Though not one of the main themes, the norm that women are nothing more that housekeepers incidentally triggers some of the most important events in the book. Should Dolores have been notified when Joe withdrew the funds from their shared accounts, the money would have still been there when she decided to take the children and leave Joe, and she wouldn’t have been forced to kill him. Ironically, the same attitude towards women is one of the factors that helps Dolores get away with Joe’s murder, as the thought that a woman could make a murder look like an accident doesn’t cross the local investigators’ minds.
The 1995 adaptation of Dolores Claiborne is a good movie on it’s own, but suffers greatly when compared to the book. The film’s two greatest shortcomings have to be Vera Donovan and Selena. The filmmakers somehow decided to greatly downplay Vera’s importance and screen presence and proportionally increase Selena’s. Not only this, but they made Selena a moody, obnoxious, selfish brat, and I hated this most of all. The Selena in the book is the final reason for Joe’s murder, true, but her appearance is mostly episodic and we only get to see her as a confused little girl. The grown-up woman that makes an appearance right at the start of the movie is a stranger to the reader.
What I did love about the film though is Kathy Bates‘ fantastic performance in the role of Dolores. I rarely see a character interpretation that is so close to what my mind conjured up for that particular character, and Dolores Claiborne fits Kathy Bates like a glove. I particularly liked the how she alternated between the young and old-Dolores, practically playing two characters at once. Placing her in the background, behind Selena in the movie poster does not do her justice.