Saturday, November 12, 2011

not a book review

Nora Roberts is a publishing phenomenon like no other.  You can love her or disdain her, but the woman knows how to write a book.  When I first started reading romance novels a couple of years ago, I avoided her entirely because ...well.... Nora Roberts.  She's not exactly someone to tell your Modern Poetry professor about.  But I did finally read a few of her novels, and became fascinated.  Once you accept her formula (if you can), she's a genius.  I ended up reading at least a dozen of them, because I was trying to figure out what it is that she does and how she does it.

I still don't know, but damn, the woman almost never makes a mis-step.  Like I said, you can love her or hate her, but she has her finger on the pulse of something that works for millions of readers.  When a friend of mine was dealing with a husband with ALS whose health was rapidly deteriorating, I asked her what I could do to help.  She asked me to send her a box of Nora Roberts.  The escapism was exactly what she needed to get her through.

But I'm borrowing one of Roberts' rare mis-steps to prove a point.  In one of her novels, one of the early trilogies, the hero and heroine have been dancing around each other, the hero ready to be more serious about their relationship, the heroine wanting to keep it casual.  One night when they are with a group of friends and family, he announces peremptorily to the group that she is moving in with him as of that night--the first she's heard about it.  She is infuriated.

They get in the car, you're expecting her to just blast him, but she doesn't say a word.  She is completely silent until they are in his apartment.  It makes absolutely no sense.  Roberts explains it by saying she (the heroine) is too mad to speak, but there is absolutely no reason why this character, who has never had a problem speaking when she was angry before, would suddenly be struck dumb.

Then they get to his apartment, and she starts to rant as he undresses and gets in his enormous jacuzzi tub.  He ends up pulling her in, while she is still entirely clothed.  And then I got it-- Oh.  she had them be silent in the car to set it up so she could have the jacuzzi scene.  It was a complete cop-out, in my opinion.  She wanted the jacuzzi scene, so she had the heroine act in a way that was out of character.  If you're going to refuse to move in, why wait until you're already there in the apartment to state your opinion?  It makes no sense whatsoever.  I was so irritated at that heroine for being such a wimp, because of course then she gives in, without him ever having asked what she wanted, or otherwise having to work out what the next step of their relationship is.  Of course, really the person I was angry with was Roberts, for having her heroine act like such a wuss, all so she could set up the steamy (*smirk*) jacuzzi scene.

Apparently this kind of thing doesn't bother most readers.  I just finished a new book, by someone who used to be one of my favorite authors, that is filled with moments like this-- smaller and less blatant, but still, you have the feeling that you're just moving from plot point to plot point instead of there being any legitimiate character development.

And it's especially disappointing to me because this woman was one of my most favorite romance novelists.  Her first trilogy is still one of my all-time favorite series, and the four that followed it were even better.  But her most recent series has been all about the formula, all about setting up these steamy or heartwarming or suspenseful or whatever moments, without worrying about the fact that to get there, her characters act in ways that make no sense from scene to scene.  What happened?  Did she change agents, or editors, or publishing houses?  Did she start listening too much to focus groups to find out what readers want?  Is she writing to what sells instead of what makes sense?  Whatever it is, I wish she'd stop, because I used to love her books.

but on the other hand, another author--whose work I enjoy and admire--said in her blog this week that this exact same novel is probably the best romance novel of 2011.  So what do I know.  But even if I'm in the minority, I still don't have to like it.  I'm about to give up on her.  There's one more to come in this series, and I'm sure I'll read it, just to fninsh out the series.  But if it's not considerably better, I'm done.


  1. OK, spill about who the other author is. I used to read Nora Roberts. I still do. But I am not so quick to run out and read her latest because i know how it is going to read. I know what the cadence of the dialogue is going to be. Why bother.

  2. Yes, EXACTLY, about Nora Roberts. Once I got through those first 10-12 that I read, I've only been able to read one every six or eight months, otherwise they all sound exactly the same.

    I'll e-mail you the other author's name. I decided not to put them in posts anymore-- maybe that will be today's blog.