'Dolores' gets smothered by a monologue

November 19, 1992|By Gregory N. Krolczyk

Dolores Claiborne was sitting in the police interrogation room by choice. She just had to get it all off her chest, and in the process put an end to all that talk. After all, Maine's Little Tall Island, where Dolores had spent all of her 65 years, was a pretty small community; everybody knew everybody's business (or at least they thought they did). But this time they were wrong, and Dolores just had to set the record straight.

See, quite a few people, including the police, thought that Dolores had killed Vera Donovan, the transplanted Baltimorean for whom Dolores had worked for many years, first as a housekeeper, then as paid companion. But though Dolores and Vera had gone at it regularly, especially toward the end when senility had taken its toll on the always-demanding Vera, Dolores hadn't killed her.

She had, though, killed her own husband, Joe, about 30 years earlier. And that's what she's come to talk about.

You've got to give Stephen King credit; he doesn't mind a challenge.

"Dolores Claiborne" is written as an uninterrupted monologue, making this his first major piece written strictly in the first person. While he's done a decent enough job, "Dolores Claiborne" suffers from the same problem that affects many novels written thus. It's difficult for the writer to paint for the reader a complete mental picture of the main character without the benefit of the omniscient voice.

In "Dolores Claiborne," that means Dolores. She's difficult to visualize physically because Mr. King never describes her. And the only other visualization aid, her character/mental make-up, is at best incongruous. We "hear" a hardened, foul-mouthed woman who freely (andneedlessly) uses language that seems inappropriate, especially considering the story's time and place.

But she's also supposed to be a hard-working woman; a supposedly loving, caring mother, who must bear the weight of being married to an abusive man. Unfortunately, Mr. King does such a good job painting the former that it's hard to picture her being the latter.

This creates yet another problem: this hardened, old woman just isn't all that likable. Dolores is charming, in an oddball sort of way (thanks to Mr. King's use of vernacular and his overall ability to write dialogue), but she's not the sort to evoke a lot of empathy from the reader. That lack of empathy simply makes reader involvement impossible.

Written as a companion piece of sorts to Mr. King's last novel, "Gerald's Game," "Dolores Claiborne" is much more mundane in scope. Although "Dolores" is generally a more successful effort, it's hardly a very impressive one.

Gregory N. Krolczyk is a writer who lives in Baltimore.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Dolores Claiborne."

Author: Stephen King.

Publisher: Viking.

Length, price: 303 pages, $23.50.

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