By Ira Levin
Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, an ordinary young couple, settle into a New York City apartment, unaware that the elderly neighbors and their bizarre group of friends have taken a disturbing interest in them. But by the time Rosemary discovers the horrifying truth, it may be far too late!
As a horror movie fan and once proud pixie-cut-sporting-woman, I have always felt drawn to Rosemary’s Baby. The film itself was one of those that reminds me just how much I love films. It’s well-acted, beautiful, spooky as hell, and is so quintessentially ’60’s. Ironically, the one thing that held me back from the novel was that very film. Having been told that it was a fairly loyal retelling of the novel, I felt less than enthused about reading it. Who wants to read a novel when you already know everything that is going to happen? But after reading Levin’s The Stepford Wives a few months ago and loving every minute of it, I was inspired.
The first thing I noticed about Rosemary’s Baby after having read The Stepford Wives is that Ire Levin hated husbands. Or marriage. Or maybe he was just fascinated by how much a spouse could absolutely destroy your life. Having seen both films before reading the novels, I was absolutely consumed with hatred for the husbands, and especially loathed Guy in this novel. This hatred was both a testament to Levin’s writing as well as a criticism of it. On the one hand, he has created such a detestable and self-absorbed character that it forced an emotional response from me, which at least indicates some strong characterization. On the other hand, I found Guy to be borderline unbelievable in his level of narcissism. He’s not evil, he’s just so consumed by his own wants that he doesn’t spare much thought for anyone around him. He comes across as a selfish fool, but I cannot really believe anyone (let alone a previously doting husband) could engage in something so excessively evil and malicious without being evil himself. This over-the-top foolishness is a criticism that extends to Rosemary as well, and was the source of my greatest frustration.
Rosemary is a dolt. This woman is so consumed with the fabric of her throw pillows and the gingham contact paper of her shelves that she wouldn’t notice if someone tattooed “SATANISTS” on her forehead. This was extremely frustrating. Granted, I knew what was going on, and coming from someone with hindsight, insidious plots are almost always going to seem obvious. But come on. The number of red flags being waved in her face is astronomical, yet it takes Rosemary an agonizingly long time to even consider that everything may not be peachy keen. To the credit of the deranged cultists, they chose an excellent victim. Nancy Drew she was not. However, Rosemary’s instinctual shortcomings do not incite the same disbelief as her husband’s lack of conscience. I can honestly say that I believe there are people like Rosemary out there. Honestly, I’ve known people like Rosemary. She is so fixated on normalcy and on how she wants her picture perfect life to go that she cannot even fathom that something could be amiss. Which it most definitely is.
In terms of readability, this novel is basically popcorn. I flew through chapter after chapter and enjoyed every bit. There’s not much heavy lifting required of the reader, and by the end of the novel Levin has gone out of his way to explain anything that might not have been immediately obvious. It’s a light read with some genuinely disturbing moments. If you enjoyed the film and are looking for a decent horror novel, I’d say give Rosemary’s Baby a shot.