I consider myself to be a pretty big horror junkie, so naturally I read a good deal of horror fiction. However, somehow I never read Ira Levin's 1966 novel Rosemary's Baby before now.
By now almost everyone knows the plot of this one thanks to the famous movie adaptation starring Mia Farrow: a young couple, Rosemary and Guy, move to an old apartment building in the upper part of New York City despite its horrific reputation. After living in their new apartment for a few months and becoming friends with several of their neighbors, the two conceive and eagerly await the new baby. Rosemary becomes suspicious of her doctor, the neighbors, and even her husband -- she becomes convinced they are all part of a cult bent on using her baby in satanic rituals.
I was blown away by Levin's writing abilities -- quite simple on the surface, this book has a lot that doesn't meet the eye. The author writes with a deft hand, never allowing the story to become bogged down or silly (and with the plot of Rosemary's Baby, that would have been very easy to do). Instead, the story carefully toes the line between believable and outrageous, paranoid and reasonable. Levin never forces the plot to sway one way or the other, and the story is all the stronger for it.
Also notable are the characters -- all seem very real and down-to-earth, like folks you'd meet on the street or at church, thus making the revelations in the final chapters all the more shocking and gut-wrenching. I especially enjoyed the nice old couple in the neighboring apartment -- Minnie's nosiness made for some funny dialogue and observations on Rosemary's part, and Roman's tales of traveling the world were quite intriguing. With those two, the reader is led one way up until the end and then the rug is ripped out from underneath. Quite big pieces of work, those two.
Rosemary's Baby more than deserves its status as a classic horror novel. It sets the reader up only to be knocked down and it terrifies to this day, almost fifty years after its publication. I knocked off half a star because the ending seemed a tad bit rushed (or maybe that's just me being selfish and wanting more more more!), but other than that I couldn't find anything wrong here. I don't know why I waited so long to read the tale of poor Rosemary and her baby, but I'm sure glad I did.