First, I want to apologize for those fans of JR who miss his commentary, but you are stuck with another post by me. While he is in Iowa I am alone with our trained Akita, Bootsie, a rack of hunting rifles, and too much time on my hands. In the comments of my last post our old friend Diana (a very funny and successful romance writer) suggested I read the New Yorker article about Nora Roberts. Our copy hasn't arrived, but I managed to sign up to get it online. Oh, yeah, and I also ran out and got a copy of Roberts's novel Tribute. You can read the first few pages on Amazon, if you're interested.
So, what do I think? I have a lot of respect for anyone who writes something that so many people want to read – and Nora Roberts clearly does it well. In fact, if I could wave a wand and have her career, I would. Because you know what I want? I want to spend my day typing and typing and making things up and producing books, and I don't really care how I do it.
But, I don't like her books. I don't think they're beneath me in any way – I read truly trashy stuff all the time (true crime, celebrity gossip), so it's not a matter of snobbery. I'm a compulsive reader, and my life would be a lot easier if I enjoyed her books, because there are a lot of them. My grandmother, also a compulsive reader, used to come visit us with a towering stack of romance novels, which she would churn through during her stay. At the time I had a towering stack of Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and the Three Investigators books, and I assumed I would one day graduate to romances.
And there are probably romances I would like, though I'm really not that invested in the whole boy-meets-girl, etc, thing. A lot of writers are taking their books out of their genres and playing with the rules. (I would guess for romance writers, playing with the rules is part of the fun.) So right now I'm not talking about all those other romance writers -- I'm talking about Nora Roberts, who is probably a genre unto herself.
But I'm finding Tribute to be excruciatingly boring. For the most part the writing isn't bad -- in Tribute , some of the early lyrical descriptions are, in fact, bad, but she seems to drop this mode pretty quickly and revert to a more expedient style once she gets going. But it's all just really, really uninteresting.
By uninteresting, I mean lacking in the stuff that, to me, makes writing worth reading: surprisingly apt descriptions, insights, humor. The characters seem dull and unrealistic. The landscape is rendered with strange blurriness. In the NYer piece, Lauren Collins says: "Like campfire stories, Roberts's books rely on verve and familiarity, rather than any particular polish or originality."
That sums it up. Her audience prefers familiarity -- at least familiarity with "verve" -- to originality. Instead of campfire stories, Collins could have compared Roberts's books to any popular thing in American culture, really: Applebees, American Idol, jeans, new cars. These things all generate comfort, rather than stimulation -- though I guess all books generate both, in some degree or other.
You know, having said all this, it seems like I'm wasting my breath: it's so obvious! But you know, when you do something in a particular way, and the force of popular opinion tells you you should do it in a different way, it's worthwhile figuring out exactly where you stand.
But I repeat, I respect what she does. She pleases millions and millions of people and brings something valuable into their lives. And like I said: if I could write those books, I would do it, for the satisfaction and the bucks. But it's a particular talent that I don't think I possess.
So, what do you think? Is it snobbish, stuck up, apt, misguided, idiotic, or what to compare Nora Roberts to Applebees? I'm eager to hear your opinions.