Thursday Reviews: Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King

Dolores Claiborne

Stephen King

This book is one of two that have very few supernatural elements to them. In a couple of crucial scenes, Dolores Claiborne St. George has a vision of Jessie Burlingame of Gerald’s Game. Likewise, Jessie had a vision of a woman over an open well on the day of the eclipse that links these two stories. It’s rather appropriate as Dolores Claiborne and Gerald’s Game are yin and yang. The former is about a woman abused (and later oppressed) who pays the price for not fighting back and standing up for herself. Dolores Claiborne pays the price for just the opposite.

In a nutshell, this first person story is about a woman accused of killing her employer, Vera Donovan, an invalid old lady who fell down the stairs to her death. The reason Dolores is suspected is not so much how she was found at the scene. No, Dolores was accused of this before when her husband Joe fell down a well. Only Dolores freely admits she got away with murder the first time.

What’s interesting is that Dolores Claiborne turns out not to be the central character in the story. Even when the day of Joe’s death is recounted, it’s really Vera who is driving the whole story. Dolores’s story is really about the consequences of Vera’s manipulations. And as hostile as their relationship is, both women, it turns out, needed each other to the very end.

The movie could never tell the story the way King told it. It’s all Dolores, in her Maine islander accent, telling about her adventures being Vera’s paid companion and why Joe St. George had to die. The movie expanded and combined several of the characters and, of course, used the eclipse. But it got the most important line right.

“An accident,” a much younger Vera tells an angry Dolores, “can be an unhappy woman’s best friend.”

And so it is here.