Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Dolores Claiborne


When I was young I thought of Dolores Claiborne as "some boring story about a woman that doesn't have supernatural elements" and avoided it.  I was wrong on both counts.  The themes of the book are something you probably need to be older to appreciate, that's for sure.  I know I saw the movie at some point, and at the time it largely flew over my head.  But as an adult I really liked this one.  I enjoy the style King uses to tell the story, having Dolores narrate to us the whole thing while she gives her story to the police.  I've said again and again that the personality of your narrator in first person perspective makes all the difference, and Dolores just has that wonderful take no shit attitude that you have to love her.

The story is also heartfelt and emotional, and while King has made errors in his early years where he didn't quite get the proper voice and tone down for his female characters, he has made up for it in spades in this book.  To have Kathy Bates return to a King adaptation for the film is also a treat.  Dolores and Annie Wilkes have little in common with each other, and Bates has no problem keeping the women separate.  She once again shows great range, from Dolores' sweeter, younger days to her hard edged elder years.

The film is a well executed drama, and I particularly enjoyed the fades and other transitions used to go into the flashbacks.  They really help to sell the fact that Dolores is getting lost in her memories.

Quite a few changes are made, but most of them do not hurt the story.  Dolores' two sons are eliminated completely.  While they add depth to the book, showing the various dynamics her husband Joe had with each child, the core story is really all about what he does to their daughter Selena and how that affects Dolores' choice to kill him.  Vera, the old woman Dolores helps care for, also doesn't have children in the movie, but that makes sense.  The reveal about what happened to them is a bittersweet ending to the novel, but there really wasn't room to develop that in the film.

The one change I'm not so sure of is making it so that Selena doesn't remember what happened to her, that she never truly admits what happened to her at all.  Technically, in the book all we know is that Dolores and Selena are estranged so it's technically possible that she could have submerged the memories of her abuse.  But I think it works better having her remember, not just because forgotten abuse is such a tired trope in stories but because it means that Selena feels her own guilt and partial responsibility about her father's death.

Another change left out,and honestly I figured there was no way they would include it, is that Dolores occasionally sees images of another girl who was abused by her father at a young age.  It's the one supernatural element to the story, and it never gets resolved.  The girl (and eventual woman) that she is seeing visions of is Jessie from Gerald's Game, another novel that serves as King's loving tribute to strong women.  While I figured we were probably never going to see an adaptation of that book, apparently I am wrong.  Time to add another "in development" film to my list.

Despite the change in dynamic with Selena, I think both versions of this story are really strong and work really well.  While I prefer the novel, both are worth your time.

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