Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Book: Rosemary's Baby

I was so excited to find this at the library the other day. I'd been looking for it forEVER... always seemed to be either checked out or filed as lost... but suddenly, there it was! I grabbed it.

I think the only other Ira Levin book I've read was The Stepford Wives. When I read that, aside from the basic story what struck me the most was this perfect 'moment in time' that he had captured. I missed the late 60s (being born in the 70s) but what these two books, more than any books I remember reading, really drive home why the feminist movement occurred. I consider myself a feminist simply because I believe that women can do everything a man can do, and should get paid the same amount to do it. I also believe women to be *better* than men at some things (multi-tasking, anyone?) -- but I won't go off on that tangent. So, reading these two books with their know-it-all asshole husbands, trapped wives (with their endless hostess duties) really reminds me of how lucky I am to be able to do, pretty much, whatever I want.

If you have been living under a rock for the past 40 years, here's the basic gist of the story. Rosemary Woodhouse, a young wife of an rising-star actor, is desperate to live in the Bramford apartment house (I believe, modeled after The Dakota). When their name comes up on the waiting list, even though they've already agreed to another apartment, they pull some tricks (or rather, her husband pulls some tricks, as he is in charge of these things and she happily waits for him to do so) and soon they are moving into their dream apartment. I loved the description of the apartment. Sounds like MY dream apartment:

"...the first room on the right was the kitchen... it was as large, if not larger, than the whole apartment where they had been living. It had a six-burner gas stove with two ovens, a mammoth refrigerator, a monumental sink; it had dozens of cabinets, a window on Seventh Avenue, a high high ceiling... The living room had large bay windows, two of them, with diamond panes and three-sided window seats. There was a small fireplace in the right-hand wall, with a scrolled white marble mantel, and there were high oak bookshelves on the left."

So they move in, and all seems well. They meet their kooky neighbors, including the odd and meddlesome but friendly Castevets. Although Guy, her husband, is having some trouble with his career, they are happy. Although Rosemary senses something is 'off' about the Castevets (quite nosy, and almost too friendly), Guy seems to take to them, and is soon spending evenings over there discussing theater with Roman, the husband. Then, due to an unfortunate case of sudden blindness in the lead actor, the perfect part for Guy opens up -- and then his career starts to take off and everything falls into place for perfect happiness. Rosemary and Guy decide to try for a baby. After a weird night (and, let's face it, a case of marital rape), she becomes pregnant and couldn't be happier.

Except that the Castevets are so meddlesome. And the new doctor assures her that the grinding pain she is in is normal. And her husband is strangely distant. And she becomes more and more ill. And she keeps hearing strange noises from the Castevet's apartment next door... but her baby is safe, right? She can keep her baby safe from whatever is brewing...

If you've seen the movie, you know what happens. I won't ruin it for anyone who doesn't know. It's so part of the modern lexicon that it's not really a surprise, but it's still a bit shocking.

I clearly have not read many novels set in the 60s. Some things stopped me in my tracks. Like:

* There are no African-Americans in the novel. Not even any black people. No, they are all Negroes (including of course the elevator boy). In 1967!

* When they furnish and decorate their apartment, they get everything new and all the best, including a "plug-in phone with three jacks." I puzzled and puzzled over this. Why are there three jacks? Aren't the jacks in the wall, not the phone? Why would you need three jacks?

* A little girl comes out of an apartment and cheekily asks Rosemary, "What's your name? Did you eat your eggs? Did you eat your Captain Crunch?" "My name is Rosemary, "Rosemary said. "I ate my egg but I've never even heard of Captain Crunch." When was Captain Crunch put on the market? For some reason I was sure it was the 80s... but if not, how could a 24-year-old woman not have heard of Captain Crunch?? Impossible.

* Talking about growing herbs and plants in the apartment, Rosemary says, "I'd like to have a spice garden some day. Out of the city of course. If Guy ever gets a movie offer we're going to grab it and go live in Los Angeles. I'm a country girl at heart." What? Los Angeles? Country girl? Wha??

Anyway, these 60s cultural references were highly amusing. Guy's portrayal as a complete asshole husband seems, while somewhat stereotyped, typical for the period. What a jerk. I see a strong resemblance to the husband in The Stepford Wives. Which makes me think that this was more a reality than a fiction. Because wives are such silly little things who don't really matter in the grand scheme of a husband's happiness, right? Right.

So -- great book. Lots of fun, a quick read, great story, good writing, perfect snapshot of late 60s bourgeois white-collar marital "bliss." Oh, and Devil-worshipping, of course.


Gwendolyn B. said...

Nice review! I LOVE this book (and the movie). It came out in paperback when I was in high school and we all passed it around. I still find the movie to be creepy-scary. The "jacks" for the phones were a new thing. It meant you could unplug your phone and move it to another room or area. Before that, a phone was not "unpluggable" and had to stay in the same place. Cap'n Crunch cereal was definitely out in the 60s - we weren't allowed to eat it! And it would have been marketed so exclusively to kids, that if you didn't watch Saturday morning cartoons, you well might not have heard of it. I've still got an old copy of this book on my shelf -- I think I'll give it a quick read near Halloween!

Tammie said...

i totally want to read this book! ive seen bits and pieces of the movie but never all the way to the end.

Daphne said...

Gwendolyn: Thanks for the comment! I understand what "jacks" are (I'm not THAT young)... but why would you need three in your phone if you're just taking it around the apartment? Wouldn't you just need the one? I'm puzzled. Maybe I'm picturing it wrong. I'm picturing three jacks actually in the phone. Why would you need three? I guess later in the 80s Captain Crunch became Cap'n Crunch. It was mega-Saturday-morning sugar-cereal in the 70s and 80s... we weren't allowed to eat it either!

Tammie: It's great. You would love it!! Totally quick fun read.

Barefoot_Mommy said...

awesome review. I guess I've been living under a rock because though I've heard of Rosemary's Baby... I have no clue how the story ends. Me & Scary not so much. LOL

Daphne said...

Barefoot: it's really not that scary. Just a little bit. Mostly it's just a very good 60s movie. The book wasn't very scary either, but it was fun to read.

AKM said...

I love this book and the movie! I love almost everything Ira Levin wrote, actually. (Don't bother with the Rosemary's Baby sequel he did about ten years ago...ugh! I'm still angry with him over that, even now that he's no longer with us.) I still think the movie is quite scary upon the first viewing. After all, what's more scary than EVERYONE around you denying you your sanity, when you KNOW something's VERY amiss? Yikes! :-) Good stuff.

I suspect the L.A./"country girl" reference could be Rosemary talking about, say, the Laurel Canyon area, for example...very hippie and back-to-nature in the 60s and 70s. Perhaps?

And yep, the Bram was modeled after the Dakota. There's all kinds of interesting RB trivia on the IMDb page for the movie, too. (That is, if you're trivia-obsessed like I am!)