The Dulled Edge of Danielle Steel
Having vowed to read more broadly in fiction, I dipped into Mills & Boon romances, then tried a novel by best-selling author, Danielle Steel.
I’ll never read another. Given that Steel is a mega-successful writer, my comments may seem like ‘Grumpy Old Writing Companion’. But I was disappointed at how much padding I had to contend with when reading The Ranch.
Steel is that rare bird, a financially independent writer, apparently worth over $800 million a few years ago. According to Wikipedia:
- She has written over 70 novels in her 25-year career.
- Her novels have huge print runs, are distributed internationally, and have been translated into 28 languages. By 2005, more than 530 million copies of her books had sold.
- She has earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for having her books on the New York Times Bestseller List for a record 381 consecutive weeks.
The novel I randomly picked to read, The Ranch, was her 39th, published in 1997.
The plot is interesting enough. Three women who first meet as young university students, reunite when they are in their forties, for a fortnight (two weeks) at a dude ranch. Each faces a major life crisis. One woman’s husband (her third) can’t cope with her superstar status. Another one’s marriage falls apart after a son’s suicide. And one faces a major health issue.
So far so good, and a realistic portrayal would have been interesting. Instead, Steel opts for extreme fantasy, having all three of her characters fall in love by the end of their first week at the ranch.
Putting aside the silly plot, what finally ruined my reading pleasure was all the padding. For example, the attractive superstar singer, Tanya, is described as having blonde hair and looking younger than her age. These details are used again and again. Ditto for the other two main characters.
Why pad out the story? Does Steel think readers won’t buy her books unless they’re door-stoppers, what I call books on steroids? Does she believe her many readers aren’t bright enough to remember plot and character details? Or perhaps she’s focused on the airport reader market, repeating information because traveling readers are often tired or distracted.
The repetition may be due to how Steel produces her novels. According to Wikipedia, she often releases several books in one year, and can be ‘researching one book while outlining another, then writing and editing additional books’. Whew! You have to admire her stamina. Once she has a huge, loyal readership, she can get away with poor writing.
The same ‘big book/padding’ phenomenon is evidenced in Di Morrissey’s romance novels and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Their early books were much shorter than the newer ones. I noticed the same padding in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and realised I didn’t have to commit too many brain cells to following the plot. The main bits would be repeated ad nauseam.
Steel’s books have been criticised not only for being ‘overly redundant and detailed,’ but also for so ‘explicitly telling the story’ so that readers may feel as if ‘they are on the outside looking in’ rather than becoming emotionally immersed. And it is a reader’s sense of immersion—entering wholly into the writer’s world—that identifies a great book.