Stephanie Wrobel’s compulsively readable debut, Darling Rose Gold, explores Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSP), a psychological disorder in which a child’s caregiver, often the mother, seeks to gain attention from the medical community for made-up symptoms of the child in her care.
Earlier novels about this rare phenomenon focus on the modes of abuse the mother employs to gain attention, like starvation or putting ipecac in her child’s food to induce vomiting. Wrobel instead begins her eerie tale when Patty Watts is about to be released from prison after serving five years for aggravated child abuse. The reader learns the details of what Patty did to her daughter, Rose Gold, only in flashback chapters: “By the time I was ten,” Rose Gold remembers, “I’d had ear and feeding tubes, tooth decay, and a shaved head. I needed a wheelchair. . . . I’d had cancer scares, brain damage scares, tuberculosis scares.” Despite finally realizing that her own mother was the cause of all her suffering, Rose Gold still has ambivalent feelings about her mother’s sentencing and imprisonment: “Some days I was thrilled. Some days I felt like a vital organ was missing.”
The rippling effects of Rose Gold’s horrific childhood build up over the five years she’s on her own, until she’s 23 and the need for revenge begins to take hold. After Patty is released, their small town’s inhabitants are amazed to hear that Rose Gold has taken her mother into her own home—and even lets her care for her newborn son.
Wrobel explores this bizarre mother-daughter relationship in chapters that alternate between each woman’s point of view, both past and present. Each woman displays Jekyll and Hyde-style personalities, and the reader is kept guessing about which one will emerge the stronger.