Please note, major plot spoilers are discussed in this post.
Surviving parental abuse is now trending in contemporary fiction. This is not exactly a new theme. Much of Samuel Butler’s writing was influenced by the smothering of his identity by his parents in his childhood, and one wonders what made Philip Larkin so bitter about life that while he empathises that the parents who fuck up their children were fucked up in their turn, he rejects the very idea of having children in his poem This be the verse.
The Recovery of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel, said to be inspired by the Gypsy Rose Blanchard case and the psychological disorder of Munchausen syndrome by proxy is one of the recent additions to the genre. A well-written, character-driven page turner about a mother who abuses her daughter, the novel is tightly edited and keeps the reader guessing as it builds up the suspense into an unexpected climax and ends with a twist.
I found the book a fairly entertaining one-time read. This is a story of abuse and pain passed on from one generation to another, much like the families Larkin speaks about in his verse, and the resolution it offers is nothing more than revenge served cold and the protgonist holding on to hatred, priding herself that she can carry the emotional baggage because she happens to be extra strong.
Patty Watts was shockingly cruel to her daughter Rose Gold, maiming her body and breaking her spirit to keep her as a dependant invalid so she had something to hang on to. When Patty is sent to prison, Rose Gold begins the painful process of trying to heal by herself and get a life, with one objective – to get her revenge on her mother. Rose Gold succeeds in traumatising her mother when the latter is released from prison, quietly frames her for abuse and send her right back to jail. After she gets her revenge, in a very disturbing ending scene, Rose Gold decides to shave off the hair she had grown back and retain her rotten teeth, ostensibly to keep her anger and hatred alive as she can neither forgive nor forget what her mother did to her.
In many ways, I found this a disturbing ending which seems to imply that abused children are scarred and maimed for life. Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects which portrays the effects of Munchausen by Proxy disorder in a much darker manner, has a much more realistic and satisfactory ending in which the heroine Camille Preaker receives parental love from her boss Frank Curry and his wife Eileen and begins to heal, learns to love herself after a lifetime of cutting herself up, and finds the feelings of kindness within her own self.
The Recovery of Rose Gold is a good book, but it would have been a great book had it shown Rose Gold getting some kind of healing and redemption, and a chance at a new life. Though Patty’s behaviour was inexcusable, Rose Gold knew that Patty was abused herself as a child and perhaps did not know any better. The sub-plot about Rose Gold’s father was equally disturbing, with her father and his family being selfish and indifferent to her. Her revenge on her parents would have been much more complex and satisfying if Rose Gold had moved on in peace from her parents, empowered herself and found a normal life, and perhaps had a daughter of her own whom she raised with love and kindness.
More than once while reading this novel, I was reminded of Barbara Kingsolver’s powerful and beautiful debut novel The Bean Trees in which the heroine Taylor Greer is shown as a strong, resourceful and independent woman thanks to the excellent raising by her mother, while it is implied that her friend Lou Ann is a nervous, indecisive and weak woman due to her upbringing by a dominating mother and grandmother. And I also thought of the lovely Aibileen Clark in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help who raises the children in her care telling them again and again that ‘You is kind. You is smart. You is important.’