The first unusual thing that I noticed while reading Dolores Claiborne was the lack of chapters—there are none at all. The book is 307 pages long (my copy was anyway) and there is not a single chapter to break it up. I have never read a book like that before, but it didn’t cause me any problems at all. I enjoyed it just the same.
I think the reason that Dolores Claiborne is written this way is because it is one non-stop narration, written in the first person. Dolores has a story to tell, it is a long story, and she is telling it to the police. It takes a long time for the Dolores to tell her tale, and by the time she has finished the reader has had, more or less, her whole life story. The main things that Dolores talks about, though, are her working life, as house-keeper for the rich and bitchy Vera Donovan and her married life with the violent and abusive Joe St George. The reader doesn’t have to get very many pages into the story before they find out that Dolores has not only had a hard life, but a sad one as well. And let’s not forget that she murdered her husband. All this can be found in the first few pages, so don’t worry, I’m not giving the game away.
One of the most interesting aspects of the story, for me, was the relationship between Dolores and Vera. Vera is, by her own admission, ‘a high-ridin bitch’ and Dolores isn’t really one for holding her tongue. Of course, she has to hold it most of the time because she needs the money. At times though, she does stand up to Vera and she is the only person that seems to have the guts to do so.
In later years Dolores becomes more of a paid companion/carer to Vera, whose health has taken a turn for the worse after a string of strokes. Vera still tries to play the bitch though, and Dolores perhaps has to take a firmer attitude towards her, but whatever Vera throws at her, and whatever mess Dolores then has to clean up, the top and the bottom of it is that these two women seem to share an unusual, if begrudging friendship.
Dolores Claiborne is a touching story and doesn’t contain a lot of horror. The most horrific scene is probably where Dolores murders her husband. There are a few other scenes, like those with the dust bunnies, that perhaps hint at something supernatural at work, but to me this story is more about friendship than anything else and it is well worth reading. I certainly enjoyed it.
I don’t know if all copies of the book will have this, but mine had the occasional quarter-page pen and ink illustration which, bearing in mind the absence of chapters, helped to break up the narration a little bit and was, I thought, a nice touch.
One more thing I must mention is that certain parts of Dolores Claiborne tie-in a little bit with Gerald’s Game (it seems a lot happened during that eclipse). I read Gerald’s Game a few months ago and although I had not, at that time, read Dolores Claiborne, I had seen the film and recognized the references in the story. When I was reading Dolores Claiborne I saw the references back to Gerald’s Game and had a look to see how much time there was between the writing of the two books: King wrote them both in 1992. I like the way the two stories fit together. It is very clever and I would recommend that anyone who reads the one should read the other. I don’t think it would matter which one was read first—they don’t fit together quite that way—but they do fit together and an awful lot was happening on the day of the eclipse.