Rose Madder is the 35th book published by Stephen King; it was his 30th novel, and the 25th under his own name. The book was released by Viking in June of 1995, and is related to King's Dark Tower series. Like Insomnia, the novel draws heavily from Greek mythology for its metaphysical elements. Also like many of his other works (especially in this time period), it deals with the subject of domestic violence.
In the prologue, which takes place in 1985, Rose Daniels's husband, Norman, beats her while she is four months pregnant, causing her to suffer a miscarriage. Rose briefly considers leaving Norman, but dismisses the idea: Norman is a policeman, and is excellent at finding people. Norman also has a violent temper, and was recently accused of assaulting an African-American woman named Wendy Yarrow. The subsequent lawsuit and Internal Affairs investigation has made him even more volatile.
Nine years later, when Rose is making the bed, she notices a drop of blood on the sheet from her nose the night before; Norman had punched her in the face for spilling iced tea on him. Rose realizes that she has passively suffered through Norman's abuse for fourteen years and that if she continues to put up with it, he may well eventually kill her. Rose reluctantly decides to leave Norman, departing from her unidentified city on a bus. Once Norman realizes Rose's flight, he resolves to hunt her down.
Rose arrives in Midwestern city, disoriented and afraid. When she arrives at the bus station, she meets a man named Peter Slowik, who guides her to Daughters and Sisters, a women's shelter. There, she quickly makes friends with Gert and Cynthia. With the help of Anna Stevenson, the shelter's director, gets an apartment and a job as a hotel housekeeper.
Rose decides to pawn her engagement ring, only to learn that it is worthless. However, she notices a painting of a woman in a rose-madder gown and immediately falls in love with it. She trades her ring for the painting, which has no artist's signature. Outside, a stranger asks her to read a passage from a novel, and is so impressed that he offers her a job recording audiobooks. Then, a pawnshop employee, Bill Steiner, asks her out; the two begin a relationship.
Rose discovers that that the painting seems to periodically change, and she is eventually able to travel through it. On the other side, she encounters a woman called Dorcas, who resembles Wendy Yarrow, as well as the woman in the rose-madder gown. Rose refers to her as "Rose Madder" because of her gown and her evident insanity. Rose Madder asks Rosie to rescue her baby from an underground labyrinth inhabited by a one-eyed bull called Erinyes. Rose does so, and Rose Madder promises to repay her. Rose returns to her world and puts the strange incident at the back of her mind.
Norman, who has arrived in the Midwest, attacks some of Rose's friends from Daughters and Sisters, murders Anna, and then follows Rose to her apartment. Rose tricks Norman into following her into the painting, where Rose Madder kills him. Rosie returns to her world and leads a normal life with no further summons from Rose Madder. She marries Bill and has a daughter, but finds that the violent rages which characterized both Norman and Rose Madder have begun to spring up within her. She then remembers that Rose Madder, perhaps foreseeing the problem, gave her some magic seeds and told her to "remember the tree." Rosie plants the seeds in a secret grove by her favorite lake and finds the seeds grow into a beautiful but deadly tree. She then revisits that tree periodically for her remaining years as it grows, and is able to release her rage and go on with her life.