Son of Rosemary, the followup to Rosemary’s Baby, may be one of the most infamous sequels in the history of horror literature. Here, read for yourself the reviews on Amazon link.
My suspicion is that author Ira Levin, in his late 60’s when Son of Rosemary was published in 1997, maybe wasn’t all there at this stage; or maybe instead he was a mad genius writing above everyone’s level to understand.
Although I lean towards the former, and I’ll get into why; I will say that you should probably focus on the more positive reviews of this book; not because I think its good but because I think the much maligned and highly controversial ending isn’t really understood by most reviewers, and the more positive reviews seem to get this. Spoiler Alert from here on out…
I, as are many people, am pretty well-versed in the John Lennon connection to the original Rosemary’s Baby; the book took place in a building called the Bramford that was based upon the Dakota, where John Lennon would wind up living, and in 1980 would be assassinated. Rosemary’s Baby director Roman Polanski’s wife Sharon Tate and her unborn baby were also stabbed and killed, by the Manson family in 1969, the family claiming to have been triggered by messages in Beatles songs.
However there was no deliberate placement of the Beatles in the Rosemary’s Baby story; the links all come with what happened after the book was published. With Son of Rosemary however, Levin has actually placed the Beatles, and John Lennon in particular into the story.
He seems to have the germ of the idea driving this blog, but I question whether or not Levin truly understood the subject material, but I THINK, that John Lennon is supposed to play a crucial role in this story.
We’ll start with what may or may not be just a coincidence. At the beginning of the book, a cab kills the dentist that is the final living member of the coven responsible for bringing Rosemary’s son Andy into the world. He is hit by a cab and killed (one of many cab references in the book) and as this happens, Rosemary who has been in a coma since 1972 comes out of her coma simultaneously, the curse that put her in one having been lifted.
The date of this happening, as luck would have it, is the mythical Beatles date of November 9th, this time in 1999. There is no mention in the book of this relating to Paul is Dead (or God is Dead), but later Rosemary muses that God may have selected this date to revive her for a specific reason.
Rosemary is re-introduced to Andy, now a global celebrity and the story wanders towards a climax on January 1, 2000 when the entire world will light candles produced by Andy. Yeah, you can kind of see what’s coming…but right in the middle of the story, almost on the anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination on December 9th, Rosemary decides to take a stroll through Central Park and happens upon a memorial she does not understand; a memorial called Strawberry Fields.
This, although intriguing for sure, is where I start to question whether Levin has lost a step in a literary sense; because this section is ultra-confusing.
Rosemary goes into her coma in mid-1972; well after Strawberry Fields Forever (1967) and after John Lennon’s Imagine (1971), so it makes no sense that she doesn’t know what she is looking at. Although its before John Lennon’s 1980 assassination you would think its a relatively simple deduction that something must have happened to him, but she doesn’t know what she’s looking at.
Then to make matters worse is this line:
These people across from Andy’s boyhood home were gathered around a shrine that didn’t exist yet. But would someday.
Wait, what? This event is supposedly set in 1999, the Imagine memorial was placed in 1985; so how does it not exist yet? This is where I lose my bearings on whether this is some sort of mindfuck or Levin has lost his own bearings. Is this foreshadowing that Rosemary is really back in 1965 and doesn’t know about SFF or Imagine or, or, what exactly? I mean obviously it existed in 1999 if he wrote it in 1997; much like the events surrounding John Lennon in reality the Space/Time continuum seems to be warped.
Or is that the whole point and Levin is a mad scientist?
This section then ends; much like the recurring anagram “roast mules”, what the significance of the Strawberry Fields stroll means is never explained and the book moves on with the plot; I didn’t claim it was a good book remember.
Eventually it is New Years Eve and it finally becomes clear to Rosemary that Andy plans on killing the whole world with candles, which I don’t remember from Revelations but whatever; and Satan reappears, he’s been posing as Andy’s driver; and nails Andy to a wall. Rosemary frees him and 3 minutes and 12 seconds from midnight, Satan offers to give Rosemary eternal life at any age she chooses, if she’ll go with him instead of staying on earth and certain death.
After some coaxing from Andy who doesn’t seem to fault his Dad very much, Rosemary takes the deal and they travel down the elevator of Andy’s building to hell, what Levin calls a cab (he also keeps referring to Rosemary as Cute, Death Cab for Cutie? Never mind…). It gets hotter and hotter and then Satan tells Rosemary I LIE when she questions whats happening.
She starts screaming and wakes up…back in 1965 with Guy. The whole story (both books) has just been a bad dream. The Bramford is no more, the Dakota is the Dakota again and they have yet to move. This is what infuriates most reviewers, many of whom reported physically throwing the book away.
But a closer exploration demands that we revisit whether Levin is up to something more than a cop-out. First Rosemary drops this line:
She said, “The skates had all four wheels in a line.”
So…its either not a dream or she has woken up armed with real knowledge from 1999. Did Satan follow through after all and Rosemary is fated to relive her life again and again starting in 1965? Is she to deliver a warning?
Then Hutch, still alive now, calls her and tells her that an apartment at the Dakota has opened up for house sitting for a year, rent free. The person who was supposed to house sit was hit by a cab, as luck would have it. He then says this:
You’ll be in among the celebrities: Leonard Bernstein! Lauren Bacall! One of the Beatles is dickering for the apartment right next door!”
Now we’re back to a Beatle. Presumably this would be John Lennon moving in next door instead of the Castavets. Levin doesn’t elaborate on the implications of that change. But, didn’t John Lennon move into the Dakota in 1973 in real life? He’s not even with Yoko yet in 1965.
What is Levin on about? Does he not know the dates of any of this? Does Rosemary now know whats going to happen with John Lennon? Could she be back to warn him? In hindsight after all, there were plenty of clues…one is just above. Is John Lennon now in the Castavet role? Is the evil regarded as being somehow attached to him (you’d get no argument from me, maybe Ira Levin thought so too)? Alas, none of this is answered.
As Hutch waits for an answer on the apartment (someone else is waiting in case they say no) he then says this:
Oh, before I forget, Roast Mules? Exactly three minutes and twelve seconds by the clock.
The anagram roast mules, explained earlier as one word that any 5 year old would know, is most likely somersault. As in, she’s destined to repeat this over and over.
Then the final line of the book, is
She looked ahead.
She’s back in 1965, and she knows more than she’s supposed to. Are we all living in Rosemary’s reboot, is that the point?
Who knows…who ever will?