Munchausen's by proxy is a mental disorder where an individual induces physical symptoms in another individual (often by poisoning) so that they can take care of them and receive adulation and praise from others for their generosity and nursing skills. Munchausen's is when the individual does it to themselves (which is different from malingering in that a malingerer tends to only feign illness and is doing so to escape having to do something else, or for legal purposes, like to milk a lawsuit) We learned a lot about these disorders in my Abnormal Psychology courses-- one example that stayed with me was a mother who smeared feces on her baby's eyes to induce chronic eye infections. It's pretty chilling and I've never really been able to wrap my head around the people who do this stuff to themselves or others.
Rose Gold's mother did exactly this to her for years, poisoning her with ipecac syrup to induce symptoms that she called a "chromosomal disorder." Now Rose Gold is all grown up, but her teeth are rotten, she still has some lingering physical and mental trauma, and she's really, really upset at her mom. As one would be. You can't help but feel pity for Rose Gold, who has never had a normal childhood. Her mother abused her her whole life and called it "care" and her father is out of the picture. She's been abused, bullied, and mocked by other children, and her only friend, Alex, is a classic "mean girl."
Patty, on the other hand, is also pretty messed up. She definitely seems to have some kind of personality disorder; her utter self-absorption and inability to acknowledge wrong-doing is extremely pathological. Under that brassy confidence, however, is a women who is needy for praise and adulation, who has been abused herself as a child and only wants to be a "good mother." Reading her POV is like having your hands slathered in oil and being unable to rinse them off. She sticks to you and makes you feel disgusting, and even when you try to cast her out, her presence lingers.
Both of these women are truly despicable people. Their POVs alternate, and Rose Gold's skip around through time while Patty's are always in the present. Seeing their dysfunction and their toxic dynamic is like watching a train wreck happen in real time. You know that no matter how it ends, it isn't going to be good-- it's only a matter of how many people they take down with them. Major props to the author for researching Munchausen's. In her afterword, she mentions that she read a lot of articles and books about the disorder, and the extra effort shows. I've even read some of the books she mentioned.
Quite often, in the X meets Y comparisons in blurbs, I find myself rolling my eyes. Here, though, I do actually feel that the Gillian Flynn comparison is on point. ROSE GOLD is a bit more predictable than Gillian Flynn's books, but it's got a great twist and the characterization of these two obviously demented women was really well done. I despised them both and found them fascinating.
Also, if you're interested in another (fictional) story about Munchausen's, I'd recommend watching Glass House: The Good Mother. It's a pretty terrible movie but it was my first introduction to Munchausen's by proxy and I found the cheesy, over-acted drama of it fascinating to watch.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
4 out of 5 stars