Stephen King has made his reputation in the horror genre, but with GERALD’S GAME (1992) and now DOLORES CLAIBORNE, King has constructed novels that are short on supernatural horror and long on psychological character study. In both novels, the total eclipse of the sun on July 20, 1963, is of importance. Sexual abuse links the two novels as well. In DOLORES CLAIBORNE, Dolores narrates her life’s history for the last thirty years to the police of Little Tall Island, Maine. She has been brought in for questioning concerning the death of her employer, Vera Donovan. Donovan, an invalid, was quite wealthy. The police surmise that Dolores killed her by pushing her down the stairs. Dolores has more on her mind than merely setting the record straight about the death of Vera Donovan; she wants the chance to relate some secret truths that have been weighing heavily on her mind for many years. Sheriff Andy Bissette shows great patience and allows her to tell the story her way.
Through Dolores’ meandering monologue, the reader comes to know a woman who has been tormented by events in her past that would have crushed any normal individual. Dolores may be crude and irritating, but she has an inner strength that has seen her through tough times. Her husband, Joe St. George, was a drunk and a brute. In graphic detail, Dolores describes the family conditions that existed for her and her children many years ago. Because her husband was abusing their daughter, Selena, Dolores — on the fateful day of the eclipse — murdered him and disposed of the body so that no one would ever discover it. If Dolores had not taken this particular occasion to confess to the crime, no one would have ever known. But since she was obliged to clear her name in the death of her employer, Dolores jumped at the chance to unburden herself. As extreme as her solution was to her problem, Dolores comes across as a mother of great resolve who protected her children as best she could. King is in fine form here, working more closely to the mainstream of American fiction. DOLORES CLAIBORNE is a poignant account of one woman’s journey through hell, sustained by love, loyalty, and sheer determination.