The phenomenon Munchausen syndrome by proxy – in which a parent purposely makes a child ill to gain sympathy and attention – receives a fresh update in Stephanie Wrobel’s excellent debut. The psychological thriller “Darling Rose Gold” works well as an intense look at a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, a tale of manipulation and how one person’s devastating secrets and lies reverberate through a community and a family.
“Darling Rose Gold” briskly moves with surprising twists as Wrobel delivers assured character studies.
For nearly 18 years, Patty Watts portrayed to the world that her daughter, Rose Gold Watts, suffered from debilitating illnesses that doctors seemed unable to cure, and fed on the sympathy of her friends and neighbors in her midwestern town of Deadwick. Fundraisers were held for “darling” Rose Gold to defray medical bills because caring for her daughter was Patty’s only job. In turn, Patty was there for others, volunteering at functions, garnering accolades for her generosity. “I don’t know how she does it,” was a frequent refrain.
It was all a lie. Patty made Rose Gold ill by constantly inducing vomiting, resulting in life-threatening malnutrition. Patty’s ruse was uncovered when Rose Gold was a teenager. The once popular Patty immediately became a pariah in the community. Nicknamed “Poisonous Patty” by the media, Patty served five years in prison for abuse; the star witness was Rose Gold.
Now 23 and the single mother of two-month-old Adam, Rose Gold agrees to allow Patty stay with her when she’s released from prison, although neither has forgiven the other for the past.
“Darling Rose Gold” delves deep into the psyche of mother and daughter and what motivates each of them. Both are vividly sculpted as Wrobel shows Rose Gold’s lack of social skills and her difficulties at adjusting to independence from her mother, while Patty, who seems so likable, wants to regain control over her daughter. Through the years, each has learned that illness and pity can be formidable weapons when trying to control people. Each believes that lying is easier than telling the truth. Manipulation isn’t an inherited gene but Wrobel shows how it can be learned.