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Darling Rose Gold


Darling Rose Gold

It is hard to think of a relationship tighter or more layered and complex than that of mothers and daughters. Even in the best of circumstances, our relationships with our mothers can be complicated --- all the expectations, fears and joy are easily muddled, no less so than when you weave in generational differences and rapidly changing times. So what happens, then, when a youngster is paired with a “bad” mother, one who cares more about appearances and glory than the actual well-being of her child? In DARLING ROSE GOLD, Stephanie Wrobel explores the world of bad mothers, Munchausen syndrome by proxy, and revenge.

For the first 18 years of her life, Rose Gold Watts’ every move was controlled by her mother, Patty. Swear words were forbidden, the television was a vessel for only Disney films and “Blue’s Clues,” and all doctor appointments were heavily monitored and dictated by Patty’s narrative. But that’s not all --- Rose Gold was also convinced that she was seriously ill, allergic to nearly everything and confined to a wheelchair. For years, it seemed that no combination of tests, medications or fundraisers could get to the bottom of Rose Gold’s numerous mysterious symptoms.

"Wrobel keeps her plotting taut, her characters as believable as they are riveting, and her premise just 'ripped from the headlines' enough to keep you turning pages long past your bedtime."

In case you haven’t caught on, Patty was a textbook representation of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. That is, until Rose Gold met a boy, Phil, online, who poked holes in her mother’s story and convinced her to dig a little deeper. Why was she never made sick by hospital food, but always vomited after eating her mother’s food? The answer, of course, was poison. Five years ago, Rose Gold confessed that she thought her mother was abusing her and threw Patty into the harsh and unrelenting spotlight reserved for abusers. And then she did the unthinkable by testifying against her own mother, complicating their already toxic relationship even more.

Now, Patty’s sentence is up, and contrary to the media and her neighbors’ expectations, it seems that Rose Gold is ready to forgive and forget. Or is she? A new mother herself, Rose Gold has learned a thing or two about the power of maternal instinct and how to toy with a relative’s emotions. Beginning from the moment she picks up her mother at the prison, Rose Gold seems to torment Patty, first by revealing that she has purchased the home where Patty grew up (and was violently abused by her father) and then by gaslighting her at every turn.

With Rose Gold’s son forcing the women closer, Rose Gold begins to set boundaries, talk back and drop hints that she really has not forgiven Patty. Desperate to recover the close relationship they once had, Patty acquiesces to Rose Gold’s moods...until she doesn’t. With the neighbors --- and their long memories --- breathing down Patty’s back, and Rose Gold acting stranger and stranger, the lines between villain and victim become blurred, and the stage is set for some serious dysfunction and revenge.

Alternating between Rose Gold’s and Patty’s perspectives, Wrobel reveals what the last five years of Rose Gold’s life were like and how she has prepared for her mother’s return. In Patty’s voice, the author recounts what it is like to reunite with her daughter while grappling with her own ever-present control issues and need for attention. She writes two unique and distinct voices, each plagued by moments of rage, love and revenge. While Rose Gold is the obvious victim, you cannot help but wonder if she has pushed her need for closure too far. At the same time, Patty represents the best of unreliable narrators. Even when readers are in her head, she is guarded and deceitful, often burying her true thoughts --- violent and controlling --- beneath extravagant dinners and manipulative acts that look like love.

Through it all, Wrobel keeps her plotting taut, her characters as believable as they are riveting, and her premise just “ripped from the headlines” enough to keep you turning pages long past your bedtime.

DARLING ROSE GOLD is a thriller in every regard, but it is also more heavily layered with family dynamics than your average suspense story. The premise is immediately eye-catching, but it is what Wrobel does with her characters that will make this book unputdownable for readers of all genres. I particularly enjoyed the chapters written from Patty’s perspective as she was so desperate to lie to herself that I nearly believed her --- and then, just when I was comfortable, Wrobel would drop a bombshell of a thought that would upend all my expectations.

Those who enjoyed HBO’s documentary, Mommy Dead and Dearest, will gobble up this book in no time, and with good reason. Wrobel has penned a compelling and well-researched tale for lovers of women’s fiction, thrillers and true crime alike.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on March 20, 2020

Darling Rose Gold
by Stephanie Wrobel