As always, if I really like a book I’ll try to stay away from spoilers because I don’t want to ruin the glorious experience for you. But with books like ‘The Recovery of Rose Gold’, I’ll happily divulge because I don’t recommend you read it yourself. So be warned.
This is the story of Patty, who has just been released from prison after serving 5 years for the abuse of her daughter, Rose Gold, due to Munchausen by Proxy – though she believes that she is innocent. Despite a childhood filled with unnecessary pain, medication and isolation, the now-adult Rose Gold comes to pick Patty up from the gates with a new baby in tow, and seemingly ready to put the past behind them. But the townsfolk aren’t so quick to forget, and Patty quickly realises that Rose Gold is no longer the weak and impressionable child she once was. If she wants to regain control, she’ll need to fight for it.
Now I’m the same as the majority of the population, in that I love watching and reading accounts of real people who are experiencing abnormal things (or those that function and flourish at the outskirts of society). As a result, I actually know a good amount about the condition Munchausen by Proxy (now more formally known as ‘Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another’ (FDIA) – but that’s not QUITE got the same ring to it), and the extremes of the disorder and the lengths to which people will go to seek medical attention fascinates me. The name of the victim in this story is Rose Gold, which is an obvious nod to real-life Gypsy Rose Blanchard, one of the most well-known cases of MBP ever recorded (and they share a lot of the same initial symptoms, like sleep apnea).
Reviews called this book a ‘psychological thriller’, and you bet I was ready for it.
So, the good stuff. It’s short. Wrobel’s writing style isn’t sophisticated but it sure is easy to read. And I did like the switching between Patty and Rose Gold’s perspective each chapter, as this did keep pace to the storyline.
But in the end, the only feeling I got was that this subject matter was far too big for this book and these characters. In order to have a true psychological thriller, I feel like you need to have an overall feeling of suspicion, of nausea, that builds up to the unveiling of a terrifying villain. Patty doesn’t feel like a true threat at any time. The worst behavior we see from her takes place before the book even starts, in Rose Gold’s childhood.
The first issue with the characters was that Patty and Rose Gold both sounded exactly the same. They spoke with the same voice, which was that of a young girl. Patty comes out with the most random assortment of language – hopping from one moment of intelligence and mature articulation to “I would’ve bet my left boob”, “Was my stomach noodley or was I imagining things?” and “His facial expression suggests he just stepped in a pile of dog doo.” It feels out of character, especially alongside Wrobel’s description of her mood which careens from one extreme to another in the space of a sentence.
The second issue was that the book felt like a competition of dislikable characters. It’s clear from the start that Patty has no empathy for her daughter and cares only about her appearance to other people. She’s intensely unlikeable from the first page and this doesn’t change throughout the book as we see her continue to manipulate and – really just be a whiny, conniving influence. On the other hand, Rose Gold starts off as a character you feel empathy for, due to her past – but then as time goes on she gets more and more unlikeable.
I’m sure there is an argument for both the same voice and the unlike-ability being a deliberate choice by Wrobel to show the level of entanglement and similarity between mother and daughter – but even if that had been the reason, it was done clumsily and simply left me feeling like I didn’t care who ‘outsmarted’ the other with their manipulation.
There are so many unanswered questions regarding the plot too. There are characters that are planted for just a moment to deliver information that our protagonists wouldn’t get any other way – like Arnie, the cashier, who gets curiously personal with the jailed child abuser within seconds of meeting Patty: “Arnie keeps at me. ‘And she can’t eat any of your food.’ Now he has my attention.” He’s one of the only characters that speaks freely – everyone else tiptoes around each other and avoids conversation which is a convenient plot device which means Wrobel doesn’t have to deal with characters confronting each other and connecting the dots.
As you have probably guessed (as I did), we’re waiting for Patty to inevitably realise that the tables have turned and Rose Gold has turned into a master manipulator while she was in prison. In the meantime, Rose Gold becomes more callous – planting Nair cream in her friend’s eyebrow bleaching tub instead of just distancing herself from her, telling her long lost father that she has cancer in an effort to keep him around once her intensity starts to freak him out, etc. And then, the final ‘dramatic twist’: stealing the newborn son (her step-brother) of her father and passing him off as her own baby FOR THREE MONTHS in order to poison him one morning, fake her own death and trick her mother into taking him into hospital where she can be arrested with Ipecac medication in her purse.
I mean, what? I’m supposed to feel sorry for this girl?
The final scene describes her putting on a wig and starting her new life, now finally free. She describes the kidnapping as a great way to punish both her mum and dad, with no consideration of the hurt she caused to others: “But this baby killed two birds with one stone. Both of my parents deserved to pay for their cruelty.”
I love a good victim to villain story, but I don’t even think this is meant to be a moment of reflection for us as readers, or the understanding of our own morals, etc. I think it’s just bad storytelling.
The only reason I give this 2 stars instead of 1 star is because of the cool concept of the book, and this truthful quote which really hit a chord with me and my ongoing daughter guilt: “The debt between a child and her mother could never be repaid; it was like running a foot race against someone fifteen miles ahead of you. What hope did you have of catching up? It didn’t matter how many Mother’s Day cards you drew, how many clichés and vows of devotion you put inside them. You could tell her she was your favorite parent, wink like you were co-conspirators, fill her in on every trivial detail of your life. None of it was enough. It had taken me years to figure this out: you would never love your mother as much as she loved you.”