Just Read: Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

Horror, MFA, Reading, SHU


I’d bought Rosemary’s Baby years ago at a run-down second hand bookstore. It’s the sixth printing of the 1968 Dell paperback, priced at ninety-five cents. Ninety five freaking cents. Anyway… I read it back when I bought it and enjoyed it then. It’s been a lot of years, so it was nice to revisit the story. I knew the ending, so I was able to concentrate more on the details that a first pass doesn’t readily leave in the reader’s mind.

One of the most interesting things about the way Levin lays the story out is the way that everything seems innocent, but nothing truly is. With the foreshadowing done by Hutch, the reader looks at everything as sinister. But there’s so much and the conspiracy is so big that we can’t fathom that it’s really everything that’s sinister. Surely, the doctor recommendation isn’t. Surely Guy can’t actually be a part of what’s going on… surely…

I found Rosemary to be annoying in some cases, but true to her background. She lived a sheltered childhood, came to the big city and lived with other women (girls, really) and then seemed to go from there to Guy. Though she’s spunky, she’s clearly never been very independent-minded. At least, not in the long-term. She is at once gullible and suspicious. Once someone has her trust, she is loathe to see them in a different light. But for those she doesn’t fully trust, she waffles. And, again, I think this holds true to her character. I was very pleased with the well-roundedness.

One of the very interesting things about this novel is how centered it is in time. It references major events that really happened (Pope Paul’s visit to NYC, the newspaper strike, etc) and items that were popular in that time (Life and Look magazines, etc). So from a cultural or anthropological point of view, this book is like a little snapshot of life in New York City in 1965. Levin did a very good job with setting here. Modern city life is well-represented.

The ending strikes me as one of those post-modern, anti-happily-ever-after endings. It really underscores the concept that real life can’t be tied up in a pretty bow right before “The End.” It’s a rebellion against the tv trope of everything being hunky dory at the end of the hour. Real life is messy and sometimes you choose the least bad choice out of a slew of horrible choices. Sometimes it’s because you don’t have a choice and sometimes it’s because you don’t want to choose the really bad thing even if it might mean something good later. It’s the human condition.

If you haven’t read Rosemary’s Baby, you should. Go out and find you a ninety five cent second hand copy!

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  • Reply
    Ron Edison
    March 18, 2010 at 6:21 am

    Glad to see this still holds up. I read it in high school and it leading to a binge of ‘black magic’ novels, mostly by Peter Saxon and Dennis Wheatley. When the movie came out, it was one of the first to feature a new rating system, something like NC17 (or whatever the 17+ rating of the time was). We were only 16 and on an after-school expedition to downtown Chicago, managed to get into the theater without being ‘carded.’ I sat there thru the whole movie, afraid that the place would be raided by police and we’d get busted. A few months later we saw THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE HUNTERS starring Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate in the same theater.

    Levin’s A KISS BEFORE DYING is a highly regarded mystery. I tracked down a copy years ago but have yet to read it.

  • Reply
    Dave J
    March 19, 2010 at 10:00 am

    I too love the tight plot work in this book. Levin, from the very beginning, shows the reader all the pieces that are encircling Rosemary. The reader sees it happening, knows it’s happening (or is going to) and yet the book still surprises at the end because you just aren’t sure, you don’t KNOW of Rosemary is paranoid or if all the stuff is deliberate.

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    I agree.Levin has done a great job with suspense here. He uses the reader against themselves very effectively. He gives us a huge info dump with Hutch and the stories of the apartment building and then plays off that to give this constant back and forth about Rosemary’s sanity.

  • Reply
    Scott A. Johnson
    March 22, 2010 at 7:31 am

    I’m very glad to see you enjoyed it, and I’m also happy that so many people are bringing up the psychological aspect of this book. True, it isn’t one of the in-your-face horror stories, but I think that was part of the brilliance of this book.

  • Reply
    Stephanie Wytovich
    March 22, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    I liked that you brought up the historical references in the book, because it does give us great insight to the time period and the happenings in New York at the time; because of that, it probably would have been a lot more terrifying to read the book at that time, but then again, they would have the psychological, post modernist way of thinking that we do, so I guess that evens it out. I particularly enjoyed your comment: "One of the most interesting things about the way Levin lays the story out is the way that everything seems innocent, but nothing truly is." I found this to be the most ineresting concept of the book because it was hard to fathom that everyone and ANYONE was involved in this conspiracty against her. In a way, it was almost to hard to believe, and that was when I started to question Ro as an author and as a person. Since we only see her POV, it’s hard to know what really was going on…

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