Darling Rose Gold, by Stephanie Wrobel

There are many stories out there in fiction of characters who atone for their wrong deeds and redeem themselves. Stories like Stephanie Wrobel’s chilling Darling Rose Gold are much rarer. Instead of seeking forgiveness for her crimes, Patty Watts returns from a prison sentence to stubbornly restart her life with her daughter. When Patsy tries to go to the local grocery store or to visit Santa at the mall with the family, her former friends hurl cruel words and threats at her. Patty just can’t understand it. You see, Patty believes that she’s innocent. We know, however, that Patty is very, very guilty. She did everything she was accused of.

Two women tell the story. Patty picks up her narration from the day she leaves prison. Strangely, Patty seems to have fallen on her feet in prison. Her no-nonsense attitude and her physical size have served her well. Of course, she’s happy to be leaving prison, especially because her daughter, Rose Gold, will be picking her up. Mother and daughter will be reunited after five years, along with Rose Gold’s son, Adam. As far as Patty’s concerned, the trial, criminal charges, and the prison sentence are all just a big misunderstanding.

Where Patty’s narrative moves forward from her release from prison, Rose Gold’s takes us back to the years while Patty was in prison. Through Rose Gold’s perspective, we see a deeply sheltered and damaged girl attempt to make her way in the larger world. For the first 18 years of her life, Patty did everything for Rose Gold. This might make sense to readers—or at least, not strike us as all that strange. Haven’t we all run into helicopter parents who try to remove all obstacles from their children’s lives? Except, the relationship between Rose Gold and Patty is much more sinister than a helpless daughter and an overly doting mother. Patty was a fretful new mother. Her worries about Rose Gold’s slow breathing and upset stomach—and her horrific childhood—metastasize into a raging case of Munchausens by proxy.

I found Rose Gold’s chapters much more chilling than those narrated by a convicted child abuser. I was surprised by this, to be honest. I expected to feel pity for Rose Gold and scorn for Patty. Well, I was right about the scorn. I should have realized that Rose Gold’s childhood of ipecac and learned helplessness would have twisted her psyche. All Rose Gold knows is how to get attention by being sick, whether it’s real or not. Her missteps in the wider world are painful, cringe-y, and appalling. That said, when Rose Gold’s trap for Patty finally springs, I forgot all about my shocked pity for Rose Gold and had to mentally applaud her for her revenge on her mother.

Darling Rose Gold would, I think, make a fantastic little movie or limited series. There are plenty of cat-and-mouse moments that had me reading as fast as I could and still comprehend the sentences. It’s also got the kind of scandal embedded in the plot that attract us to clickbait and supermarket magazines. This novel is a deliciously guilty pleasure of a read.

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