Last week, I wrote a review for Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, and it’s safe to say that even if it wasn’t perfect (what book is?), I still very much enjoyed it. So when I found out that my local library had the sequel on the shelves, how could I pass up the chance to read that too?
…I really should have passed up the chance.
Before you read any further, WARNING – There will be spoilers for Son of Rosemary and Rosemary’s Baby in this not-a-review rant of mine.
Son of Rosemary takes place in 1999, just before the turn of the millennium, and it turns out that Rosemary has been in a curse-induced coma for almost 3 decades. Now that the cursed has been lifted, she sets about trying to adjust to a very different world, and also to reunite with her son, whom she named Andy. Andy, who looks identical to the stereotypical Western image of Jesus, and who is beloved the world over for his work in reconciling and uniting all peoples, regardless of faith, location, experience, etc, under one banner. Andy swears he has nothing to do with Satanism or his real father anymore, that he works for the good of humanity, but as time passes, Rosemary gets increasingly suspicious that Andy’s organization is up to something sinister after all.
If you go into this book expecting the same kind of character development you found in Rosemary’s Baby, you’re going to be disappointed. Whereas a lot of Rosemary’s Baby was given over to character development via dialogue and snapshots of the characters living their lives, Son of Rosemary relies far more on narration to move the story along, and honestly… the narration doesn’t move the story along. Very little of interest actually happens most of the time, and when interesting things do happen, they’re rushed and seem more than a little convoluted and confused, like the author had too many ideas in his head and wasn’t quite sure how to get them properly down on paper.
The main convoluted point of the story is what Andy’s motive is, and the motive of his group, and whether or not Andy actually has as much control over himself as he thinks. He says he wants nothing more to do with Satan or Satan’s plans, and for the most part that seems to be true. The secret rituals he conducts are less Satanic and more… dark New Age, though honestly, enough people still get New Age and pagan practices confused with Satanism that I’m not legitimately unsure if anyone was meant to see it that way or just assume that it really is thinly veiled Satanism, regardless of Andy’s claims. Either way.
But the ultimate plan for the group is to distribute candles that everyone the world over will light at the same time, demonstrating humankind’s togetherness, only those candles… “The candles begin releasing a virus that’s suspended in a gas.” (pp 241) I’m not even going to attempt to critique the science behind that one. But this will wipe out humanity, as per Satan’s desires. Satan himself actually went so far as attempting to kill Andy so that he doesn’t tell Rosemary the truth, because Andy has known this was the end-goal all along, and Satan knew that Andy would want to tell Rosemary so that she could… be saved? Stop the Lighting? It’s not exactly clear.
Regardless, we’ve now got a situation where Andy was doing exactly what Satan wanted while saying he wanted nothing to do with Satan, attempting to work both for and against Satan’s plans, and honestly, none of it adds up. By the end, it’s impossible to see what Andy’s motives are, what he thinks, why he does anything. We see through the novel that he keeps his horns and claws and other demonic attributes hidden through a sort of glamour, and sometimes his control over that slips, so it’s possible to interpret the whole thing as Andy attempting to have nothing to do with Satan except that sometimes his diabolical heritage can’t be subsumed, and so he couldn’t help actively working toward Satan’s goals anyway.
Which makes me wonder how he didn’t sabotage his own plans during his moments of greater control.
Of course, any inconsistencies can be easily be explained by the novel’s ending, which is that Rosemary wakes up from a terrible nightmare and discovers that it was all a dream.
And yes, I am wincing as I type that. Because wow. Just… wow. Everything that happened from the first page of Rosemary’s Baby was just a terrible terrible dream she was having.
She even comments to her husband that it all being a dream explains some of the inconsistencies between real life and what she experienced, so phew, isn’t it good that none of it was real? Only then they get a phone call from their long-time friend, Hutch, who informs them that he has a great proposal for them – a friend of his needs someone to house-sit for a year, in the very same building that inspired Rosemary’s devil-baby dream, and they could live there rent-free, so wouldn’t that be great? And Rosemary stares into the distance, wondering whether or not to put herself in the same place where the nightmare all started.
There are two ways to interpret this ending, and neither of them are particularly great.
1. At the end of Rosemary’s nightmare, Satan is literally taking her to hell, promising her an eternity of torment. When she wakes up, she comments to Guy, “It went on and on, and I slept, and it started again, and went on and on…” (pp 251) Which could be interpreted to mean that for Rosemary, by the time we’re seeing her wake up on the pages of the book, she has already lived the whole scenario more than once. “It started again.” So her dream wasn’t really a dream so much as a vague memory of the past, and she is stuck in an eternal time-loop in hell, where she keeps reliving the worst period of her life. Her rape, her abuse by a Satanic coven, people conspiring against her, being in a coma and losing decades of her life, seeing her son hurt, being helpless to stop the end of the world, being dragged into hell only to start the whole terrible scenario all over again. It was all real, and it will always be real.
The biggest point against this? Tannis. Tannis is the fungus that Rosemary was given through her pregnancy to help strengthen her baby’s demonic self. It’s clearly established as a fungus. In Son of Rosemary, it’s revealed to be related to cannabis, and can get people high. Okay… No. Because Rosemary ingested a whole bunch of that stuff when she was pregnant, and did not experience anything remotely similar to what ingesting or inhaling cannabis can do. Other than perfectly justified paranoia, anyway. So to assume that it was all real doesn’t explain this. It doesn’t explain any of the inconsistencies across the stories, nearly all of which come to light when you try to reconcile the first book with its sequel.
2. It really was all just a horrific dream. No more inconsistencies that can’t just be easily explained away by dreams being dreams and not always making sense. Bam. Everything’s fine.
Except that is the most weak and pathetic ending ever. I knew it was a weak and pathetic ending when I tried to use it as I grew bored with a 4th grade writing assignment, more than a year before Son of Rosemary was written. If a little kid knows it’s a cheap cop-out, a well-established writer should know it’s a cheap cop-out. “It was all a dream,” is a laughable ending, one that erases all the work that came before and signals to readers that the writer had no freaking clue how to actually end the story and so just negated it all.
Ultimately, there is nothing good I can really say about Son of Rosemary. It had none of the flair and originality of Rosemary’s Baby, the characters were generally pretty lifeless and uninteresting, and there is no positive or redeeming way to interpret that ending. I can see why so many people finish this book and are angry about it. Reading it felt like a waste of time. It’s one of the few books that I actively feel is best dealt with by pretending it doesn’t exist. It attempts to answer a “what if?” question that didn’t really need answering (sometimes ambiguous endings add more power to a story), and takes Rosemary’s story from being a compelling look at a woman in a very bad situation to a weak end-of-the-world thriller, and that does the first novel a great disservice.
I didn’t feel I could properly write a review for this book. You can call this a review if you like, but myself, I call it a rant. This was written purely to get this stuff off my chest, not to advise people whether or not it’s a good idea to read this book. From a reviewer’s perspective, I will say that if you enjoyed Rosemary’s Baby, then leave it at that. Enjoy the first book for what it is, but know that you’re missing absolutely nothing of worth if you don’t read the sequel.