“A person can always find something to be grateful for, no matter how dark things get.” – Dolores Claiborne.
Dolores Claiborne lives on Little Tall Island in Maine with her husband Joe and three children, Selena, Joe Jr. and Pete. Dolores is a housemaid and caretaker for the wealthy Vera Donovan.
Dolores has worked for Vera for a long time, but at the start of the novel, we learn Vera has fallen down the steps of her home and died. Dolores has been accused of murder.
This 305-page novel released in 1992, takes place mostly in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s with some bits in the 1990’s.
The novel was adapted into a film in 1995 starring Kathy Bates as Dolores. Kathy also portrayed another strong (yet psycho) woman in the adaptation of King’s novel “Misery.”
The film was very good. There were some major differences from the novel, but nothing that took away from the overall story.
Kathy bates was a PERFECT Dolores Claiborne. I love Kathy in everything she does, and both King adaptations I’ve seen her in, she has absolutely nailed. Jennifer Jason Leigh played adult Selena and she did a great job too.
Overall the movie was good and gives readers a nice visual for the novel. I’d recommend checking it out. (After you read the book though!)
Back to the novel:
“Dolores Claiborne” is written like a testimony. Dolores Claiborne’s testimony to prove her innocence. The first 301 pages are written in what almost feels like one breath. No chapters and no real pauses or stopping points. Its Dolores talking, and members of the Little Tall Police Department listening and recording.
The last four pages are clippings from newspapers describing events as an epilogue to Dolores’s story.
The narration may seem weird or almost boring, and it did take me a few pages to get into it, but I quickly came to appreciate it. I mean REALLY appreciate it. King was able to write his usual vivid descriptions and amazing characters but all through Dolores.
Not only were the descriptions and characters amazing, but the story was incredible as well.
!!!!!SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!
The testimony is split into thirds. The first third is about Dolores’s time taking care of Vera, who at this point is an old woman that frequently soils herself and has horrible nightmares and visions of dust bunnies preparing to attack her.
The second third is about Dolores’s life with her abusive, selfish, drunk husband Joe St. George. In this section of the testimony, Dolores confesses and describes how she killed him.
Dolores Claiborne is a certified badass.
She grew up fighting and working hard for everything. She married Joe straight out of high school and had three children with him. After marriage she learned Joe wasn’t the pretty-boy she had thought.
One night, Joe hit Dolores across the back extra hard and she decided she’d had enough of that and broke a creamer jar over his head… Joe never hit her again.
The hitting stopped, but Joe began to manipulate their daughter Selena and started to force himself on her. Dolores finally saw the signs just before it was too late and again stood up to Joe and got him to stop.
Joe went behind Dolores’s back and took the money from the college accounts of all three children and transferred it to an account in his name only. Dolores learned of his thievery and decided she’d had enough of Joe St. George… period.
“Sometimes, an accident can be an unhappy woman’s best friend.” – Vera Donovan
She plotted to kill him and kill him she did. Her plan occurred and succeeded on July 20th, 1963, the night of the full solar eclipse. The same eclipse another King character experiences on her father’s lap in the 1991 novel “Gerald’s Game.”
“Gerald’s Game” is another great and disturbing novel with a strong female lead. It was adapted into a very good movie on Netflix in 2017 by director Mike Flanagan. Flanagan recently signed on to direct the film adaptation of “Doctor Sleep,” King’s sequel to “The Shining.”
Sorry, I got side-tracked again, back to Dolores:
Dolores has visions of this character, this little girl named Jessie, during the eclipse. King masterfully and very subtly ties in the two novels together through overlapping themes and the eclipse.
After the death of Joe, Dolores is freed, but she loses the love and trust of her daughter.
In the last third of the novel, Dolores tells the story of the day Vera died and how she was pegged as a murderer even though she was innocent. The similarities between Vera and Dolores and the secrets each has lived with add some nice little twists during the novel’s conclusion.
The novel was short and easy to read but beautiful. Like I said earlier, Dolores Claiborne is a certified badass. King knows how to write strong female characters and showed it here.
I actually really enjoyed the testimonial narration and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this novel. I highly recommend you check it out.
“In the end, it’s the bitches of the world who abide… and as for the dust bunnies: frig ya!” – Dolores Claiborne.