Christine Penmark has the ideal life. A nice home, good friends, a loving (if often absent) husband, and a sweet, mild mannered daughter who at only eight years old is already the prefect little lady. Rhoda is not boisterous, she does not shout or get herself dirty playing outside. She is the perfect little angel. But Christine’s happiness is shattered when the worst happens and Rhoda seems to be directly involved. The blinders about her child brutally ripped from her eyes, Christine is forced to consider the possibility that she has given birth to a being wholly without remorse or any sense of morality, and further, she must decide how much of the blame for Rhoda’s actions falls on her shoulders, and how she must go about correcting it.
I love evil kids. They are my horror bread and butter. And darling Rhoda was my first exposure to the trope courtesy of the movie that was inspired by the novel. As such I’m not sure if I could be objective about this book even if I wanted to be. That said, I loved this book both for the creepy child aspect and for the issues it raises, such as when your children are born or turn bad, whose fault is it? Is it you as the parent who made them that way, or were they made that way by nature? It’s quite obvious where March falls on the nature/nurture debate, but he takes it even farther by asking: could a child such as Rhoda be created by so-called “bad genes”? Could such a thing as a serial killer gene be passed down? And if so, is Rhoda ultimately blameless for her actions, as much a victim as those that she’s murdered? Of course in my opinion it’s all bull, but watching Christine puzzle over these questions is part of what makes the book so enthralling
March uses the tried and true method of dystopian novels everywhere to play on the fears of his audience: he takes something that they already worry about – for instance, wondering if one’s child will turn out well, or not. That they won’t be “normal” – and magnifies it. Little Rhoda is every parent’s worst fear magnified by a thousand, a little monster incapable of any real feeling for her fellow humans, driven entirely by instinct and completely amoral to boot. Christine is the parent who is forced to wonder if Rhoda’s deviance might be entirely her fault, a virus that she has unintentionally passed on. I don’t have much use for Christine, to be honest. She’s far too passive for my tastes, spending the majority of the book careening between blaming herself entirely and being paralyzed by her own fears. Her final decision about what to do with Rhoda is almost nonsensical, and pretty much doomed to failure. I really just wanted her to step up more and be more active. But then I started thinking of the book as the tale of the emotional and mental breakdown of one woman upon the realization that her cookie cutter life is actually a nightmare in disguise, and suddenly I could sympathize with her, and even understand her final, desperate decision.