#9: Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin

Two things: 1) I finally got the font size to increase on this blog. I can handle tiny type in print, not in back lighting, and I don't consider it fair to make others suffer just to read my less polished prose caused by fast blogging; 2) finally realized that I can have more space on Twitter if I use tiny url myself rather then letting them auto-shrink it after I submit. Cannonball Read: #9: Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin I'm not even going to try to hide it: Rosemary's Baby is one of my favorite novels of all time. I place it up on that literary pedestal with Hard Times by Dickens and The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner. I consider it the greatest horror novel ever written and one of the crown jewels of American literature. Ira Levin is so underrated as an author I can't even find a dry or witty comment to express my disdain for his lack of public image. For those who don't know, Rosemary's Baby, the novel, is exactly the same as the book. That's because even Roman Polanski realized you can't improve on perfection. His screen adaptation takes all of its cues from the novel, down to exact lines of dialogue and specific set and costume designs. A handful of changes were made, and obviously there are omissions when dealing with a 300+ page novel, but the results are nearly imperceptible. When Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse move into a new apartment building, it looks like their every dream will come true. They finally get pregnant, and Guy begins catching one break after the other in his professional acting career. Even the neighbors, as old and strange as they are, seem to embrace them and their success. Too bad that nice girl Rosemary met in the laundry room had to go and jump off the building, shattering the peace and serenity of their new lives and casting doubt on everyone Rosemary is connected to. The novel excels in many ways. For one thing, it's the rare suspense novel that does not play down to the reader. The reader only knows what Rosemary knows, and that's exactly the way Levin wants it. Are their hints earlier in the book as to what happens at the end? Not particularly. Maybe some flags that you notice on a second or third read, but nothing that overtly says "And it all ends like this." The fact that a novel that continually betrays your expectations manages to stay a compelling read is remarkable. The characters are interesting and well developed. From the Castavettes, the freaky deaky elderly neighbors with no shortage of pre-natal advice and convenient contacts for the Woodhouses, to Dr. Hutch, Rosemary's old, trusted doctor who tries to warn the young couple from staying in an apartment complex with such a checkered past. Rosemary, for all of the strange occurrences in her pregnancy, comes across as level headed, rational, compelling, and sane, even when everyone has convinced her she's losing her mind. She feels real, even when pursuing the wildest theories in really strange ways. Then there are the descriptions. Levin does not leave a detail untyped that needs to be shown. You know exactly what the apartment looks like before anything important happens there. You'll see the detail of the necklace Minnie gives to Rosemary before Rosemary even acknowledges its existence. And all these minute details do nothing to distract from the story. They enhance it. We know what Rosemary knows, and that's how Levin wants it. The pacing in the novel is phenomenal. It flies by without feeling rushed. It's a slow burn suspense/horror novel without the halting sense of pushing a boulder up a hill only to watch it run away at the last second and leave you hanging. I know I've had a few run-ins with people in the past who believe me to be a horrible person for praising this book so much. After all, it can be interpreted as pretty abusive to women. Some claim my fascination with raped by the devil stories clouds my judgment, while others use that as signs that I'm a complete misogynist and should be ashamed of myself. And I could care less. Lesson learned: my taste in literature is exactly that: my taste. Just because I love Faulkner doesn't mean I won't be mocked mercilessly by my peers for appreciating his layered fiction. And just because I enjoy Rosemary's Baby doesn't mean I'm a horrible person for reading what happens to poor, victimized Rosemary. It also doesn't mean that this type of feminist reading is even an accurate reflection of the text. There's a certain reputation to the book, and certain scenes that always come up in conversation. Those certainly are capable of clouding judgment when viewed as isolated moments. For me, it's easily one of the best ever written. I strongly recommend it to anyone who has never picked up the book or seen the film. The two work hand in hand.

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