Adler's iconic tale takes us from suburban bliss to an deadly territorial battle. Jonathan and Barbara Rose are at first glance the perfect couple. Jonathan has a stable law career; Barbara is an aspiring gourmet entrepreneur with a promising pâté recipe. Their large home holds the rich antique collection that originally brought them together, as well as the loving familial bond that intertwines them with their children Eve and Josh. When Jonathan finds himself suddenly gripped by what is presumably a heart attack and Barbara confronts the loveless spell lingering between them, the sun-soaked sky that was once the Rose family union drifts into a torrential downpour. Their mutual hatred becomes ammunition in a domestic warfare that escalates in the most unpredictable ways while they helplessly eye their dwindling nuptial flame. In the chaos that unfolds Adler allows a moment of much needed contemplation on the shape of today's matrimonial bonds. The War of the Roses illuminates the relationship-shattering materialism, contempt and selfishness of husband and wife by posing a timeless question, how far are we willing to allowour material possessions the power to define who we are? Are today's marriages haunted by the struggle to get even?
** I was sent an e-book of War Of The Roses as part of Warren Adler's book giveaway promotion to book bloggers to promote his works and their upcoming movie adaptations and in return was asked to offer an honest review. ~EFR
War of the Roses starts out introducing readers to the romantic meeting of Barbara and Oliver, young college kids working on Cape Cod for a summer. They meet at an auction, both bidding on a set of boxing figurines meant to be a set but sold as separate pieces by the auction house. Both Barbara and Oliver end up winning one half of the set, become acquainted when Oliver catches her after the auction, insisting these pieces need to be together. Chapter 2 fast forwards years into the future, Barbara and Oliver are a settled married couple with 2 kids -- sixteen year old Eve (aka "Evie") and 12 year old Josh. There's also 22 year old Ann, brought in as an au pair for the children. This struck me as a little odd, given the children's nearly grown ages, but hey maybe it's a "rich eccentric" kind of thing? Her main job is to help Barbara with the parenting stuff -- homework, keeping up with school schedules & the like -- while Barbara tries to get her catering career up and running.
This is about the time the reader starts to see the first hairline marital cracks in the Rose home. Ann is secretly lusting after Oliver while Barbara is feeling the first inklings of a bored, unappreciated (as she sees it) housewife. Oliver is at work one day when he suffers what he believes to be a heart attack. Of course he is rushed to the hospital, begging for his wife the entire way. She never shows. He discovers it wasn't a heart attack but what essentially amounts to a really intense case of acid reflux. Still, when he gets home and confronts Barbara about her absence, that's when the "War of the Roses" gets its first bit of serious kindling. Barbara admits that she's come to the realization that she really cannot stand her husband, that he repulses her to no end. Then she blindsides Oliver with dropping the "I want a divorce" hammer. Even to the reader it really feels like it comes out of nowhere, at least when it comes to the intensity of Barbara's sheer loathing of Oliver. In the first 35-40 pages or so, Barbara seems, for the most part anyway, to be the kinda flitty, happy-go-lucky housewife type but in just a few pages after that she flips to mega ice queen. As the reader, I felt like I was getting Oliver's emotions and confusion!
I found Barbara's cold and calculating manner through the whole divorce process stunning. I can't imagine being with someone for so many years and then being able to so easily click off that part of my mind containing all of our memories together. This girl gets ruthless! On one hand she admits that she has no concrete reason to hate Oliver -- he's proven himself a good and faithful husband, father and provider, not mention how uber-supportive he's been of her pursuing her culinary dreams, being the one to first suggest she spread her entrepreneurial wings, even bankrolling her business -- but yet suddenly she decides he makes her miserable and she deserves to have everything, the house, the money, the tchotchkes, everything because she feels she's sacrificed her dreams to raise his children. Wait.. what?! Yeah, these kids are suddenly somehow something Oliver chained her to.. but no, she loves them though. Really! This woman, I swear. That was my thing, as a female reader -- if Oliver had been a philandering shit, of course I would have been all Team "Don't get mad, get everything" but she goes after him over seriously nothing.
Which is why I cracked up when Barbara starts out singing the ol' "I don't need a man" tune, professing she's got no problem carrying the expenses of her own business, seemingly all to the tune of Destiny's Child's "Independent Women". But hehe, once Oliver steps back and lets her have her way on this one, she soon discovers that vendors often have their invoices ready and waiting to be paid up faster than clients actually want to pay their bills. Barbara soon sees she actually doesn't have the bank just yet to be all that independent, so she starts scheming to get more money out of Oliver to pay for the illusion of this lifestyle she does not, in fact, actually have. She goes so far as to actually say "Oliver has ruined me." Umm, who dropped the D-bomb, now? That's when things start getting really down and dirty between the two of them, fighting over STUFF of all things. Yeah, the kids really seem to take a backseat in importance in all this. The new name of the game now is PETTY.(show spoiler)
And the fallen armoire. Ugh. The tragedy of all that wasted whiskey!
I did really like Oliver's ex-rabbi lawyer, Murray Goldstein and thought he was perfectly played by Danny Devito in the film. Speaking of which, if you haven't seen the movie adaptation, I highly recommend it. There were some changes made between the book and the movie but experiencing both only enhanced the story as a whole, I found. Though originally written in the early 1980s, I think this novel still excellently illustrates the dangers of putting importance on physical posessions rather than family and strong emotional bonds, 'cause you know what they say... You can't take it with you.
FYI Note To Readers: Early editions of this novel have Mr. Rose's name as Jonathan Rose rather than Oliver.