Rosemary’s BabyOctober 5, 2015
by Ira Levin
I wanted to like this book. I really did. But, alas, the most frightening thing I experienced while reading it was when Devil Cat jumped up on the bed, knocking the book out of my hands. Sadly, it’s just not scary. This is due in part to the writing. In the introduction by Otto Penzler, he calls author Ira Levin a “genius” and paints him as a master of economy of words, the result being a nerve-jangling terror ride for the reader. In reality, the writing was so ineffective and heavy on description it kept intruding on what I was seeing in my head, slowing down my experience of reading. (Honestly, do I really need to know that one of the characters was “wrapped in light blue, with snow-white dabs of gloves, purse, shoes, and hat…She was big-nosed, was a sullen fleshy underlip. She wore pink rimmed eyeglasses on a neckchain that dipped down from behind plain pearl earrings.” Oy.) Also, he telegraphed every plot point with big blinking arrows that practically screamed, “HEY READER! SEE THIS? BOY, WILL IT GETCHA LATER ON!!!” Now, you might be thinking I knew this because I’d seen the movie, but—ha!—I didn’t see it until after I’d read the book. Even without any previous knowledge of the plot, I could still see where the story was going.
What also hurts the book, and which has nothing to do with the quality of the writing, is the fact that we’ve become so accustomed to the hyper-violent scare fests of today’s movies and cable series that Rosemary’s Baby, which was published in 1967, seems almost quaint. I had the same problem with ‘Salem’s Lot. I read it two summers ago, alone, in a dark room in our Maine rental at all hours of the night, and I just wasn’t scared. I’m sure if I’d read it when it first came out, I’d be as freaked out as some of my friends were. Perhaps the same would also be true with Ro’s kid.
If you want a real scare, read The Exorcist, published a mere four years later. Blatty did it better and badder and a whole hell of a lot more frightening.