~This review was written as part of The Stephen King Project~
Dolores Claiborne is a psychological thriller novel narrated by the title character. Set on the fictional Little Tall Island (Also the setting of Storm of the Century) off the coast of Maine, the story opens with Dolores confessing to the murder of her husband 30 years before following the discovery of a shocking family secret.
The style and structure of the novel is a point of departure from Stephen King’s usual style of chapter divisions, paragraph breaks and third person narrative. Dolores Claiborne is simply one non-stop thread of first person narration, a great exhale of dark and disturbing secrets from the protagonist, Dolores. This monologue style is fitting given that Dolores’ confession occurs in an interrogation room of the police station on Little Tall. Dolores’ monologue engages with a number of King’s recurring themes, including, sexual abuse (see Gerald’s Game 1992), domestic violence (see The Shining 1977), and powerful womanhood (see Carrie 1974). I greatly admire King’s ability to mediate stories through the eyes of a woman. With Dolores Claiborne, as well as Carrie and Gerald’s Game, King has cemented his ability to get to grips with the psyche of strong yet emotionally damaged women, particularly those who are brought to brink of destructive behavior and beyond due to the extent of their suffering.
King’s usual interplay with the supernatural is for the most part absent with just a few fleeting episodes of telepathic visions that are ancillary rather than central to the overall plot. I would argue that these telepathic moments are present in Dolores’ monologue as they heighten the reader’s sense of her trauma and detachment from reality during particularly disturbing moments in her past. Abuse victims often describe self-imposed detachment from reality whilst suffering at the hands of others. Therefore, these details in the novel, no matter how minor they are within the overall narrative, actually aid in creating a rich and realistic psychological thriller.
The novel was adapted into a 1995 film directed by Taylor Hackford and starring Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Christopher Plummer. The film generally stays true to the novel. However, unlike the novel, the narrative of the film is at times told through the eyes of Selena, Dolores’ daughter.
To conclude, Dolores Claiborne is one of my favourite King novels. King’s ability (as a male novelist) to write women well is of great appeal and I think that in this particular novel, King portrays the title character with striking humility, humanity and understanding.
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