Dolores Claiborne is a haunting novel, but not in the way you might expect given the author is the great King. Aside from a brief ghostly encounter, the story doesn’t revolve around supernatural phenomena or evil beings. This is the story of a hardened island woman off the coast of Maine and what she had to go through to protect her cherished daughter. The entire book is a monologue and confession provided by Dolores during an investigation into the death of her boss. First published over twenty years ago, this remarkable book still packs a powerful punch. Hodder & Stoughton | 1992 | Paperback | 307 pp
You may have seen the movie. In 1995, Dolores Claiborne hit the big screen starring none other than Kathy Bates as Dolores – and she did a phenomenal job.
I’ve seen this movie a few times in the past, and I never realized it was based on a book by Stephen King. I’d never come across the book before. Reading it was a different experience, but because I had seen the movie, I couldn’t help but hear Kathy Bates’ voice in my head. That’s not a bad thing.
“Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman’s got to hold on to.”
As I said above, the entire book is a monologue. Dolores Claiborne is making an official statement and confession to investigators after the suspicious death of her elderly boss, Mrs. Vera Donovan. She tells the group straight away that did not kill Vera, but she had killed her husband all those years ago. She knows everyone on the island suspected it, but she was never charged with the crime. It was time, she decided, to confess to the murder, and even implicate the recently departed Vera Donovan for it was Vera who gave her the idea.
“But listen to me, all three of you, n hear this if you don’t hear nothing else: everything I did, I did for love … the love of a natural mother feels for her children. That’s the strongest love there is in the world, and it’s the deadliest. There’s no bitch on earth like a mother frightened for her kids.”
Dolores tells the tale of her early years with Joe and her employment with the incredibly difficult Vera Donovan. She worked hard, worked her fingers to the bone, and put nearly every penny away for her children’s education. She was a good mother who lived a hard life. She suffered for a time under the abuse from her drunken husband, but she eventually put a stop to that. As Dolores grew stronger and stood up for herself, her husband Joe turned his attention elsewhere. She decided to leave Joe for good when she discovered what he had been up to, but all the money she had been saving was mysteriously gone.
When Vera catches Dolores crying, she can’t help but wonder why. Dolores Claiborne, the steel rock, crying? Dolores tells Vera the truth, and Vera imparts a secret of her own. Husbands die every day, don’t they?
“I have digged a pit for mine enemies, and am fallen into it myself.”
Dolores explains how she killed her husband on the night of the great eclipse and the fear that followed her. She goes further to describe her continued employment with Vera as a caretaker for the house, and then for Vera herself who slipped in and out of lucidity. As Vera’s health and mind faded, Dolores moved in with Vera and became her sole companion. After Vera died from a fall down the stairs, all eyes looked to Dolores suspiciously. She had always been suspected informally of being involved with Joe’s death. There seems to be a pattern.
I always find strong accents difficult to read when the language is written phonetically. Dolores has a thick Downeast Maine accent. If you’re not familiar with how it sounds, I would describe it as a Boston accent combined with a deep southern accent. It’s very local, a little strange, and very hard on the ears. Reading it was hard on the eyes. Hearing Kathy Bates’ voice over in my head helped me along.
What shines through is the depiction of this hardened, strong island woman. She’s a good woman who works incredibly hard for those she loves, and she’s also a bitch for those she loves. How she carries herself, the things she does and says – it’s an amazing representation of the strength needed to be a mother and a hard worker in a geographic setting with few opportunities. Stephen King nails it. We didn’t get a weak woman who cowers at the feet of others or one who needs to be rescued. We got a MOTHER, through and through.
by Stephen King