Dolores Claiborne

by Stephen King

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King's greatest strength as a writer has always been deft characterization. In a novel that is staged through the monologue narration of one character, King has an undeviating sense of Dolores's inner character. As she tells her life — at her own pace, despite the impatience of the police — readers are invited into the increasing richness and complexity of her courage. She steadily narrates to us her life, loves, omissions, sins, and motivations. Cantankerous, scatological, profane, and fiercely maternal, she is also earthy, vivid, goodhearted, believable and compelling. Through her authentic voice — unvarnished, uncultured, agonized and unforgettable — Dolores Claiborne emerges as almost heroic.

By comparison, Joe St. George, her husband, is cardboard cutout of a loutish, insensitive drunkard. He is physically abusive, voyeuristically interested in his compassionate daughter, and emotionally destructive of Dolores and Selena's mother/daughter relationship. The only positive images of Joe which Dolores remembers for us were very early memories of their courtship and early marriage, memories which, in retrospect, become ironic.

Vera Donovan, in comparison to Dolores, is a soured and tragic figure. Like Dolores, she realizes that "men have accidents all the time." She is also an independent woman who has made a painful decision to murder her husband and spends the rest of her surviving or finally not surviving her own actions. Her husband's infidelity is an unspoken secret in their marriage, but his death in an auto accident is a great relief to her. However, her son and daughter blame her for the infidelity and the accident. A year later, her children die in another auto accident. Vera spends the rest of her life creating stories about her children as if they were alive, yet estranged from her. As Dolores explains, Vera is a bitch because she is obsessive, exacting, and pathologically angry. She is also sly, vicious and punishing. But ultimately, she is a pitiful, disintegrating, lonely woman, who is losing her mind and is afraid to live or die. Despite Vera's increasingly mad behavior, Dolores admits she still has some affection for Vera: "I felt something for that bitch besides wanting to throttle her. After knowing her over forty years, it'd be goddam strange if I didn't." And Vera has reciprocated Dolores's loyalty with restrained affection, by reading between the lines of Dolores's domestic nightmare and helping with her family problems as much as her sense of propriety would allow.

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