The Horror Honeys: Hardcover Honey's BookS of the Week!

Hardcover Honey's BookS of the Week!

A Hardcover Honey Vintage Double WHAMMY!

The Stepford Wives and Rosemary's Baby – Ira Levin

When I saw the news last month that NBC was planning a miniseries remake of “Rosemary's Baby”, of course I thought about the iconic Roman Polanski 1968 movie version starring Mia Farrow and her memorable pixie cut.  Putting aside all of the other Mia Farrow news recently, I remember her being perfectly cast, all frail and wide-eyed as the innocent Rosemary, whose vain actor husband Guy sells her to the Satanic neighbors as a vessel for the rebirth of Satan's child.  Wow, reading that over, it sounds like the most ridiculous story concept ever.  Almost as absurd as the idea of a village of perfectly groomed and robotic wives who live to clean house and cater to their husbands' every wish in the charming suburb of Stepford.
Knowing I already owned both of these Ira Levin novels, I decided it was time for a quick re-read, and if your only exposure to Ira Levin's work is through the movies (aside from Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, other adapted work of his includes Sliver, The Boys from Brazil, and A Kiss Before Dying) you are missing out.  The guy could flat-out WRITE and it's no coincidence that so many of his works have been made (and re-made) into films, because he casts a very cinematic feel in his novels.

I started off with a re-read of The Stepford Wives.  Written in 1972, there's definitely a dated element in all the “women's lib” lingo (and thank God for all those women who came before me and my spoiled Gen-X cohorts), but other than that, the subtext of the book felt more timely than ever in this day and age.  It seems every week I read a new article about “leaning in” “having it all”, or that dreadful “Tiger Mom” and frankly, if someone wanted to program me to be a shapely robot who glides along as if on wheels, never yells at her family, is always up for sex, and even fits groceries perfectly in her cart at the local Hy-Vee, well, I guess I could see the appeal of that for at least a few days.  And I bet my family would get used to it pretty quickly.  

The Stepford Wives is one of those short books you could read while your presumably perfect baby is napping on their organic sheets. Focusing on Joanna Eberhart, a wife, mother, and (not incidentally) a talented photographer, the set-up comes quickly as she and her husband Walter move to Stepford, along with their two kids, Pete and Kim.  

Although Joanna tries to make friends, she finds all the other women in Stepford to be too busy with housework to spend any time together.  They all seem to be perfectly put together, with pin-up bodies, and they never, ever yell.  Or show much emotion at all, when it comes right down to it.  Oh, they are perfectly polite to Joanna, but her efforts at spending time with the other moms while the husbands spend most of their time at the mysterious Men's Association house nearby don't seem to come to fruition.  Eventually she finds a friend, the messy and fun Bobbie Markowe and together the two of them try to understand what is happening in Stepford, especially after they come across articles detailing a very active Women's Lib chapter in the town several years prior.    Things happen fast, and the ending is a thing of beauty.  Definitely worth your time.

Rosemary's Baby burns a bit more slowly but is also a scarier tale.  Sweet young newlywed Rosemary Woodhouse and her husband, up-and-coming actor Guy, move into a coveted apartment in The Bramford.  They love their new place, despite the warnings of Rosemary's friend Hutch, who details for them the terrible events that seem to take place at The Bram more frequently than other buildings – things like suicides, murders – and the Trench Sisters, “two proper Victorian ladies who were occasional cannibals.”  Guy and Rosemary shrug off his warnings, although Rosemary does note that taking her laundry down to the basement makes her uneasy.  Luckily she meets a young woman one day doing laundry at the same time – Terry – and they agree to go down together in future.  Terry, as it turns out, is a former drug addict who was living on the streets until Rosemary's neighbors, the Castevets, found her and took her in.  Rosemary and Guy haven't yet met the Castevets, although Rosemary notes that she has heard parties in their apartment, some with music or even chanting.  Coming home from a play one night several weeks later, Rosemary and Guy are horrified to see police cars parked outside The Bramford and learn that sweet young Terry has apparently leapt to her death.

The Castevets happen along, are suitably distraught, and Rosemary is quick to tell Mrs. Castevet what lovely things Terry had said about them.  Mrs. Castevet stops by the day after Terry's suicide to thank Rosemary for her kind words and invite Rosemary and Guy to join them for dinner.  The Castevets (Roman and Minnie, as it turns out) seem like a harmless sweet old couple and soon Rosemary and Guy are socializing with them on a regular basis.  Minnie even gives Rosemary an old silver charm that Terry used to wear (“It's good luck!”) filled with something unpleasantly odorous called tannis root.

Rosemary notes that some of Minnie's dishes, though otherwise excellent, have a faint chalky aftertaste that Guy professes not to notice.  Guy becomes busier with more prestigious acting jobs when a rival actor who was originally cast in an important play is suddenly, inextricably struck blind.  One night after a dinner including many drinks, Rosemary finds herself quite dizzy and takes to her bed, where she experiences vivid and horrifying nightmares, some including their friendly neighbors, the Castevets.  In the morning, she awakens to find scratches on her thighs and breasts – Guy is apologetic for proceeding without her, using as his excuse the fact that she had previously told him it was a good night to conceive.  And conceive she does!  Although she likes her regular doctor, the handsome Dr. Hill, she can't say no when Roman and Minnie are able to get her an appointment with their personal friend, Dr. Abe Saperstein.

Dr. Abe wants to see Rosemary every week, which seems unusual to her, but lovely.  He doesn't recommend any of the standard pre-natal pills, in fact, he suggests that Minnie will make her a special smoothie every day and bring it over for Rosemary to drink.  He also advises Rosemary that the intense and prolonged pain she is feeling is completely normal and should stop any day now.

Rosemary's pregnancy isn't exactly normal, though, you see, because she appears to be carrying the spawn of Satan.  Her suspicions aren't aroused when her good friend Hutch falls into a coma, but upon his death months later, she is given a book he left for her – and he has underlined some very specific passages that finally get the wheels turning in Rosemary's head about mysteriously bitter smoothies, horrific pain, the history of The Bramford, and the black candles her sweet neighbors brought over recently during a power outage.

For the rare person who hasn't seen either movie or read either book, I will stop there.   But other than some antiquated language and the lack of cell phones, Ira Levin's work is really timeless!  Give any of his books a try – but start with these two.  

Hardcover Honey Verdict: Four demon babies (or emotionless wives if you rather!) out of five for these two classics.