Skip to main content

Retro Reading: The War of the Roses by Warren Adler


You know how when a book becomes a movie, most everyone who's read the book will say that it was better than the movie? In this instance, I'd have to say that the movie is much better than the book.

True, I've seen the movie countless times but never read the book, and while I can't help but picture Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas in the movie, they kept popping up as the characters while reading (her more so).

It's also very hard to classify this book.

Is it a romance, a black comedy or something different? I really can't say.

Anyway, the story is about Barbara and Jonathan Stone and how they met at an auction on a rainy day at an auction on Cape Cod.

Jonathan is there to get a pair of Staffordshire figurines, but the auctioneer sells the pair separately and that's how the couple meet. He wins one and she the other.

In the second chapter, approximately twenty years have gone by and he's now a successful attorney and she's running a catering business out of their home. They live in the best part of Washington D.C. and have two children, Eve, 16 and Josh 12.

Barbara has decided to devote all of her time to her business since the kids don't need her anymore and she feels that the house is complete, as far as decorating goes.

She hires Ann, a college student as an au pair and she moves in with the family, but she has a major crush on Jonathan and fantasizes about becoming his lover. She's amazed that she's able to keep her feelings buried and tries to remain calm whenever she's near him.

When Jonathan goes out of town to meet a new client, he begins to feel some discomfort and is rushed to the hospital and after a couple of days as a patient, the result is that he has a hernia and is upset that Barbara never came to the hospital or had checked on him.

Scroll to Continue

On the day that he's released, he gets home and is greeted by Ann and she tells him that Barbara is meeting with a client and the kids are off doing their thing. She's deeply concerned about him, but of course doesn't let him know.

Later that night, Barbara casually tells him that she wants a divorce and the house.

Since he's been blindsided, he tells her that she can't have the house but is willing to grant her an amicable divorce, even though he doesn't quite understand why she wants one. He even agrees to move out immediately.

After a few days, he learns that she's hired the best divorce attorney in town and he hires one from his office building and during a conversation, his attorney mentions a clause in divorce law which allows him to move back into the house, but there are stipulations and Jonathan follows them to a tee.

Barbara doesn't like this arrangement and sets into motion a series of events that will undoubtedly cause a series of reactions from him.

Each goes back and forth trying to destroy the other as their lives go to the dark side and they don't care anymore about who may or may not live.

Since most people reading this have probably seen the movie, the book basically is the struggle between the two and unlike the movie, we don't see Jonathan (Oliver in the movie) on his struggle to becoming a top lawyer in his firm. Also, we don't really know that Barbara has been depressed all of these years since her goal at some point was to be her own boss.

I think that the elements above make the movie much better and you get a better sense of what each of the characters are going through. In the book, however, it's just each other challenging the other and I don't know if you can really get behind the characters.

Sure, you're supposed to pick a side and while you're rooting for Jonathan, when his demeaner changes, you really can't get behind him.

It's a pretty fast read and there is a sequel and had I known about it, I would be reading it now.

Related Articles