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Review: Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

Review: Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie WrobelDarling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel
on March 17, 2020
Format: ARC
Goodreads

Sharp Objects meets My Lovely Wife in this tightly drawn debut that peels back the layers of the most complicated of mother-daughter relationships...
For the first eighteen years of her life, Rose Gold Watts believed she was seriously ill. She was allergic to everything, used a wheelchair and practically lived at the hospital. Neighbors did all they could, holding fundraisers and offering shoulders to cry on, but no matter how many doctors, tests, or surgeries, no one could figure out what was wrong with Rose Gold.
Turns out her mom, Patty Watts, was just a really good liar.
After serving five years in prison, Patty gets out with nowhere to go and begs her daughter to take her in. The entire community is shocked when Rose Gold says yes.
Patty insists all she wants is to reconcile their differences. She says she's forgiven Rose Gold for turning her in and testifying against her. But Rose Gold knows her mother. Patty Watts always settles a score.
Unfortunately for Patty, Rose Gold is no longer her weak little darling...
And she's waited such a long time for her mother to come home.

I am a true crime aficionado, but I feel fairly certain that if I asked you if you knew who Gypsy Rose and Dee Dee Blanchard are, you’d have a pretty good guess. Gypsy Rose Blanchard was the victim of her mother Dee Dee’s Munchhausen By Proxy for her entire life, which was cut short by Gypsy Rose’s Internet boyfriend in 2015. Now imprisoned for having her mother killed, Gypsy Rose is able to thrive and flourish as a young woman in her twenties with her own interests and ideas – no longer under her mother’s thumb, having to pretend she needed a wheelchair, having her head shaved, being fed through a port, her teeth pulled, pretending she had the IQ of a small child even though she was so much more. Soon she will be released from prison, barely thirty years old, and able to thrive independently. Munchhausen By Proxy is a terrible illness, yet the story of the Blanchard family has fascinated people for years now – just what makes a mother snap like that? And why would her daughter go along with it, if she knew she could just get up and walk out of that house? There were some serious power dynamics being exchanged behind closed doors, some we will never be privy to. After all, only two know the truth, and one of them is dead.

Darling Rose Gold takes the Blanchards’ story – and similar stories from other Munchhausen sufferers and victims alike – and pivots it a bit. What would have happened if, instead of having Dee Dee killed, Gypsy Rose had simply charged her with her crimes, testified against her in court, and let her serve her time in prison? That’s exactly what Wrobel tackles in this interesting domestic thriller.

Rating:

Applicable PopSugar 2020 Prompts: A book that’s published in 2020, A book that passes the Bechdel test, A book published in the month of your (my) birthday, A book with “gold,” “silver,” or “bronze” in the title, A book with a three-word title, A book with a main character in their 20s

How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend

Rose Gold Watts spent her entire life, all of her formative years, being told she was different. She had so many disorders and dysfunctions, and while she didn’t need a wheelchair, sometimes she relied on one. Her mother, Patty Watts, had a terrible upbringing herself: an abusive father, a silent mother, an older brother’s suicide in the wake of it all. Despite having her own terrible childhood, Patty seems intent on making Rose Gold’s good the only way she knows how – a way that most of us would consider pretty terrible. One day, Rose Gold confides in her best friend and neighbor about what is going on under the Watts family roof, and suddenly Patty is arrested. Rose Gold testifies against her mother, along with some key witnesses, and Patty is imprisoned. Rose Gold, meanwhile, gets her own small apartment, begins working at a local electronics shop called Gadget World, and builds a life for herself, one small, tentative step at a time.

Now it’s been five years, and Patty is released from prison into the waiting arms of her Rose Gold and Patty’s new four month old grandson, Adam. Adam’s father is not in the picture, Rose Gold has explained, just like her own father wasn’t – only Rose Gold’s father is dead, Patty has always assured her. Patty Watts has a way with words, and she weasels her way into her daughter’s home to stay – just until she gets back on her feet, of course! Rose Gold grins and bears it, driving her mother to her new house she’s just purchased for herself and Adam – her new house which is, oddly enough, Patty’s childhood home. Rose Gold knew Patty hated this home, could feel the abuse and memories seeping out of the paneling and brickwork. But Rose Gold assures Patty that she purchased it as a treat, a way to bond the family, create new memories. Surely Rose Gold is just being kind to dear old mom, right?

The Bottom Line

Have you ever seen two cats fighting for alpha, where they just sort of circle each other and you’re apprehensive because you genuinely can’t tell who will come out on top? That’s what my experience reading Darling Rose Gold was like. In one corner we have Patty, a big woman with a big imagination who is quick-thinking and absolutely convinced that each action she takes is for the betterment of society. In the other corner we have Rose Gold, a twenty-something young woman who now knows how to cook her own food, take care of a child, and everything in between. Her mother spent the better part of 18 years torturing her, and she is not going back down that road again without a fight.

Wrobel does a good job of endearing us to both Rose Gold and Patty – an art considering Patty is morally reprehensible. But we get into her head, we learn of her past abuse, we see how she reasons things out – we can’t 100% say she’s a bad person. Similarly, we can’t say Rose Gold is 100% a good person – getting into Rose’s head allows us to see how messed up her mother made her, and how her current behaviors are uncomfortable and toxic and really, really cringe-inducing.

I can’t say much about this for fear of spoiler territory, but I know I said out loud to this book “oh no don’t do that” at least a dozen times, and they were all because Rose Gold did or said something awkward. This creates a good dichotomy because frankly both of these leading ladies suck, so you are not super invested in who comes out on top (beyond not wanting baby Adam to get hurt).  This book was compulsively readable, and I knocked out its over-300 pages in two days, which is very fast for me!

So why did I give it 4 stars? I took one off because at the end of the day, when you stand back and look at this book’s message as a whole, I’m not sure what it is? Munchhausen By Proxy sufferers are often incarcerated instead of given the intensive therapies they no doubt need – Patty could really have used some inpatient psychiatric treatment, not prison time. This book culminates in a cat-and-mouse game of revenge, and when it’s over and the dust settles I am not sure what my takeaway is supposed to be. Something just didn’t quite sit right for me.

That said, if you can suspend disbelief for a little while, this is an interesting story with some great morally grey characters, if you’re into that sort of thing. I highly recommend it for a weekend read, just don’t put too much stock into the credibility behind it. I know Wrobel did her research, but similarly to Hulu’s The Act (a mini series about the Blanchard family), something just feels … off.

“You would never love your mother as much as she loved you. She had formed memories of you since you were a poppy seed in her belly. You didn’t begin making your own memories until three, four, five years old? She’d had a running start. She had known you before you even existed. How could we compete with that? We couldn’t. We accepted that our mothers held their love over us, let them parade it around like a flashy trinket, because their love was superior to ours.”

“They say a grudge is a heavy thing to carry. Good thing we’re extra strong.”

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