By Ekta R. Garg
April 15, 2020
Release date: March
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
After her release from prison, a mother squares off with her daughter in a contest of wills. Both women want revenge for the wrongs committed against them, and despite the history that binds them neither are willing to offer the other any solace. Author Stephanie Wrobel traces the causes and effects of a bizarre syndrome in her compelling novel Darling Rose Gold.
Rose Gold Watts spent most of her childhood in hospitals. Often she had to use a wheelchair. She had difficulty keeping down food, and at one point doctors inserted a feeding tube into her body so she could get the nutrients she needed.
Her single mom, Patty, devoted all of her time to Rose Gold, taking her from one physician to another, trying a variety of foods, even homeschooling her when a little boy made fun of her lack of hair. No one doubted Patty’s love for her child or her determination to keep Rose Gold healthy…except Rose Gold herself.
In her late teens, Rose Gold makes a horrifying discovery: she’s not sick. In fact, she’s never been sick, at least not with a real condition. Rose Gold has been throwing up her meals and watching her teeth rot because her mother has been poisoning her.
After Patty is convicted of child abuse and sent to prison, Rose Gold rebuilds her life. At 18, she’s ill equipped to navigate the world around her. Patty made sure Rose Gold was so dependent on her that Rose Gold feels like she’s discovering everything from scratch. In some ways she is.
Still, she manages to get a job, albeit a boring one, and she begins an online relationship with Phil from Colorado. More than anything, though, Rose Gold wants to prepare for the biggest event of her entire life: her mother’s release from prison. After five years in prison, Patty is released and asks Rose Gold if they can live together again. Everyone in the community is stumped when Rose Gold says yes.
Her mother may talk of a change of heart, but Rose Gold knows her mother wants to punish her. With the help of a therapist and her own courage to face the facts, Rose Gold decides to play along with Patty’s “reformation.” After all, if there’s one thing Rose Gold has learned from her mother, it’s how to put on a good show.
Author Stephanie Wrobel takes readers into the minds of people suffering from the inexplicable condition Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: when caregivers hurt those under their protection and then “save” the people they’re taking care of. In the novel, Wrobel lets both Patty and Rose Gold share their points of view. The intimacy of first person allows readers to see and hear how Patty and Rose Gold approach the world. The result is both discomfiting and fascinating.
At times Patty seems convinced of her innocence: she just wants to take care of her daughter and can’t understand why so many people—former coworkers; former friends; even Rose Gold herself—are standing in her way. She’s devoted her entire life to Rose Gold. In her mind, no one seems to get that.
At other times, Patty’s throwaway comments and her own childhood experiences reveal a deeper intelligence. It looks as though she knows exactly what she’s doing. Some readers might finish the book on the fence about which way Patty leans, a depiction true to real life.
Rose Gold too comes across as a fully developed, realistic character. She battles the mental conditioning of almost 18 years with the proof of her mother’s abuse and her own slow-awakening common sense. Rose Gold craves her mother’s approval, yet she also wants a normal life.
If the book can be faulted anywhere, it’s in the middle where it sags as Rose Gold executes a plan that she shares with no one—not even the reader. Through several chapters, it feels as though both mother and daughter are treading water until an inevitable ending that is also surprising. While Wrobel offers a small bit of hope, she also saddles it with the guilt of the past. It’s a tricky balancing act, but Wrobel gets it mostly right.
Readers who like books about psychological conditions and how they can twist a person’s mind and life will enjoy this one. I recommend readers Bookmark Darling Rose Gold.