By Ira Levin
Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse are a young New York couple on their way up. He’s an actor starting to break through in commercials and New York theater. She is a loving housewife. They decide to move out of their tiny apartment into a stately apartment building called the Bramford.
They soon become close friends with their eccentric, elderly neighbors, Minnie and Roman Casavet. They have taken in a young ward to rehabilitate her from her drug addiction. Rosemary meets her in the building’s laundry room. But just a few days after they meet, the young woman jumps from a balcony at the Bramford.
Shortly after this friendship develops, Guy gets a part in a play after the original actor inexplicably goes blind. Shortly after, Rosemary and Guy celebrate with drinks. Rosemary passes out and has odd dreams about someone having sex with her while the Casavets and other elderly people cavort around her naked.
She wakes up and Guy informs her that he had sex with her while she was asleep. He didn’t want to miss a chance to conceive a baby. Shortly after, Rosemary finds out she’s pregnant.
Rosemary has her own obstetrician in mind, but the Casavets insist that she use an old friend of theirs who is quite prestigious. He offers her a cut rate and she decides to go to him. He insists that she drink daily a concoction of herbs that Minnie prepares for her.
Rosemary deals with horrible pregnancy pains while Guy’s acting career takes off. Her friend Hutch becomes concerned and contacts her, saying he has something important to tell her, but he doesn’t want to tell her over the phone.
She goes to meet Hutch and he doesn’t show. She later learns that he’s fallen into a deep coma. Before he dies days later, he becomes lucid and insists that his sister pass along a book to Rosemary.
Rosemary acquires the book. It is about witches and Satanism. One of the most notorious witches mentioned in the book lived in the Bramford almost a century before. Hutch leaves her one clue as to why the book is important. She discerns that clue and suddenly, she notices odd coincidences and events in her life over the last nine months.
Fearing that the Casavets and even her husband want to use her baby for satanic rituals, Rosemary tries to escape. But it is futile. She is brought back to the Bramford and there she delivers her baby. Her husband and the Casavets try to assure her that everything is going to be okay with the baby, but Rosemary refuses to accept it.
Finally, with the baby crying, Rosemary goes to it. When she sees the baby’s eyes, she is horrified. He has his father’s eyes, the Casavets inform her. She has born the son of Satan. Rosemary is at first distraught, but after seeing another woman care for her baby incorrectly, the maternal instinct kicks in and Rosemary accepts the baby as her own.
Ira Levin was my first favorite writer and I first read this book when I was twelve or thirteen. I read it over and over again because I loved it so much. Reading it for the first time as an adult, I can understand why. The book is written at approximately an eighth grade level.
The passage of events is rapid and Levin’s prose is staccato as he reveals these events. While his diction is somewhat more complex, it’s almost as if every event begins with the phrase “and then.” This is the way kids tell stories. This does not take way from the depth of the story in any way and was frankly, an enjoyable change of pace from more laborious authors.
Rosemary’s Baby falls short of being called an “important” novel, but it was very much a product of its times. It’s set in 1966, the year that Time Magazine asked on its cover, “Is God Dead?” This is referenced in the book and a woman giving birth to the spawn of Satan as the Church of Satan was developing was very much a part of the zeitgeist of the times.
This exploration of the changing attitudes toward religion in the 1960s in no way dates the book. The story stands on its own and stands the test of time. Rosemary as a woman is a bit dated, but that does not detract from her character development. She’s able to put together the mystery surrounding her and acts independently to try to escape her circumstances.
Ira Levin published several books, a few which were made into movies. However, Rosemary’s Baby ranks as his finest work.