My Thoughts on Dolores Claiborne

“If I had to pick I would probably say the movie is better, but know that it’s a close race.”

So I just finished reading Dolores Claiborne, and it was pretty different than Stephen King’s other stuff. Of course I’m writing this now because I will also be watching the movie and then comparing the two, but for now let’s stay focused on the book. So right off the bat what you have to get used to when reading Dolores Claiborne are the writing patterns that mirror speech patterns of the characters. The book takes place in Maine (surprise, surprise), and it is a book that plays heavily on that. Words are spelled differently to match pronunciation, there are contractions and slang; honestly it’s just shy of needing its own dictionary for translation. But once you get into the mindset of the book, and eventually give in and read everything in an exaggerated southern accent like I did, then it’s actually pretty cool how King trains your mind to read in a different way.

The next thing that you have to overcome (and there are a few of these obstacles) is the story being in a first-person perspective. It’s not that Stephen King hasn’t written in the first-person before, but when I say Dolores Claiborne is first-person, I mean that in the most literal sense. The book follows Dolores Claiborne, a local woman who is being questioned after the death of a woman to whom she was the caregiver. We know that Dolores is in the room with other people, but the book goes so far as to never let them speak. Dolores reacts to what they are saying, and we get to read that, but apart from those moments we have to kind of assume what is happening in that room. And this is an interesting writing style becasue it makes the focus of the story clear. Dolores being in that room isn’t the story, what she’s saying is.

In terms of content, Dolores Claiborne didn’t exactly break new ground even when just looking at the works of Stephen King. I don’t know what it is with this dude wiring about people killing their spouses, especially if there is a well involved, but he loves it. I noticed a lot of similarities in particular to Gerald’s Game, which is a book I read a little while ago. I knew that both books take place during the solar eclipse which kind of connects them, but I was getting mad at just how much Dolores Claiborne referenced Gerald’s Game. It felt lazy to me, until I remembered that Gerald’s Game referenced Dolores Claiborne just as much, but becasue I hadn’t yet read Dolores Claiborne those references didn’t stick out as such. And honestly this really cool connection to another one of King’s stories is the only thing that is keeping Dolores Claiborne off the ground in my mind. It’s not that it was a bad story, or poorly written (much like all of King’s stuff it was an easy read), but it was just kind of bland.

The third and final thing you have to overcome when looking into reading Dolores Claiborne is the lack of any structure. The story, much like the interview that is taking place within the story, is a stream-of-consciousness. The story starts, and there are three hundred pages of words, and then it ends. There are no breaks, no chapters, sometimes long stretches without even so much as a paragraph break. King does his best to imitate exactly what was going on in that room where Dolores was telling her side of the story. It’s interesting, but once again it isn’t really enough to make up for the rather bland story.

Dolores Claiborne has a pretty good story in it. Really good if this is your first Stephen King book, but pretty good if you’ve read his other work. The problem is King kind of gets lost in building this world and these characters, and he forgets about that story. You can attribute this to the character of Dolores rambling, which would be a brilliant defence had King not fallen victim to this same issue in his other books. Stephen King is very much about creating an experience. It isn’t enough for him to say “There’s a ghost, and it’s spooky”, he has to go into what kind of attire the ghost is wearing, the sound it makes as it floats towards you, the way the moon hits the side of its face, the way the wind is blowing, any smells that the wind may be carrying in that particular minute, how the main character feels about this ghost, how the main character looks, how the main character looks at the ghost, what the main character had for breakfast, if the main character was abused by their father (which, if it’s a Stephen King book, chances are the answer to that is a resounding “yes”. Seriously dude, do you need to talk about stuff?). These moments of intense world-building are why I love King, he throws himself completely into these worlds and scenarios that he’s created and he won’t stop until he’s satisfied that he’s done a good enough job of relating that experience to us. The problem is, when the surrounding story is about a woman cleaning up shit and hanging sheets on a clothesline, you kind of lose interest in all of the details.

And that’s why I said there is a good story within Dolores Claiborne, but the rest of it was kind of tedious at times.

And seriously, can we talk about how out of left-field King can get with his explicit sexual stuff? Dude loves to write about creepy fathers preying on their daughters and shit. I get it, that’s the real horror of the world, but come on. Give it a break.

The film version of Dolores Claiborne was really interesting becasue it picked up on a lot of stuff that the book only supplied in passing. To be more direct: the movie is depressing as shit. In the book Dolores is taking care of Vera and the story plays out as a kind of rivalry that’s fun and frustrating at its core. The movie takes this idea and really runs with just how depressing it could be, and it honestly hurt my soul. The same thing happened with the rest of the story as well; there was a real emphasis on the bleak nature of a lot of what was being told that wasn’t so much there in the book.

I also really enjoyed the way the movie presented the story as opposed to the book. In the book Dolores is telling her story in an interrogation. This creates a personal touch in a lot of the aspects of the story, and also allowed for King to really get into the mind of Dolores. In the movie the story is more of a re-living rather than a re-telling. Dolores goes to different locations which spark certain memories for her. She’s even seen in a few instances forgetting that she was in the present, being completely consumed by the memory. This once again adds another layer of depth to the story and it makes it flow better than it did in the story. Or at least it gave meaning to the helter-skelter nature of the storytelling. Although we lose some of that personal touch that was in the book with the first-person narrative, in my opinion the movie creates a more relatable narrative.

I also really thought the performances in the movie were amazing. Kathy Bates delivers a landmark performance as Dolores, and everyone else did a great job of filling out the world. I also though that Cristopher Plummer did an amazing job in his role, even though it was pretty much fabricated for the movie itself. I wasn’t so much a fan of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s ‘deliver all of my lines through my teeth’ style, but I found it hilarious that the actress who played young Selena mimicked that. And speaking of that, I really didn’t like how the focus of the story was shifted away from Dolores from the book to the movie. I mean it was interesting bringing Selena back and having her deal with her past, but at that point it’s a completely different movie.

Although a lot of this movie was amazing (like the makeup which was breathtaking), there were some parts that stood out to me as odd. For one, Danny Elfman’s score. I love Danny Elfman as much as the next guy, but holy shit did his music not fit in this movie. I’m not sure if he did a speedball before he went into record or if he was trying to fuck with the director, but wither way the music was not subtle in the slightest. Whenever anything remotely suspenseful or exciting would happen you didn’t have to worry about feeling emotions becasue Danny Elfman was there to come along and accost you with an orchestra. Not only did this cheapen a lot of what the movie had going for it, but it also got tiring after the first twenty minutes. I really wasn’t a fan of the ending, mainly because it had very little to do with Dolores herself, but other than that I would say that Dolores Claiborne was a solid movie.

So both the book and the movie have something going for them. The book is written interestingly and the story, while kind of bland, is easy enough to get through. The movie focuses on the darker parts of the story, but changes a lot which i wasn’t a fan of. If I had to pick I would probably say the movie is better, but know that it’s a close race.

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