I’ve never been one to buy into the concept of “beach books.” Like, read something light and fluffy if you want, when you want. No shame – unless you’re reading the new “50 Shades” from Christian’s perspective. That being said, there’s something about warm weather and lazy days in the sun that does lend itself to the mass-market paperback. They’re popular for a reason: they’re easy to read, portable and you can pick them up and set them down without worrying about breaking your focus.
I like a trashy novel as much as the next girl, but what I really like is a challenge. After joking to friends that I was going to read nothing but Danielle Steel for an entire summer, I got to thinking. Why didn’t I make good on that promise? Instead of a summer, I decided to read only Danielle for a month. That seemed slightly saner than devoting my precious summer to the Danielle Steel oeuvre.
The 67-year-old Steel has created an empire via her popular romantic novels. She’s the best-selling author alive and writes several books a year from her home in Paris, often working on up to five at one time. Suck it, John Grisham. Danielle Steel is the undisputed HBIC of popular fiction.
I grew up with Danielle Steel; my mom read most of her books, as did my grandma and my aunts. They were a stalwart presence in our small town library and had such thrilling names, like “Ransom” and “Seasons of Passion.” I remember paging through them and dreaming of the day I would be deemed old enough to handle a Danielle novel, though when that time came I chose V.C. Andrews instead.
So I ordered a lot of 16 vintage (yes, vintage) Danielle Steel paperbacks from the ‘70s and ‘80s via eBay. When they arrived at my door, I laughed hysterically. Friends scoffed, “Are you really serious about this?” Of course I was.
But guess what? I failed. I failed miserably. I made it through four novels: “Remembrance,” “Palomino,” “Passion’s Promise” and “Zoya.” I cracked the spine of “Thurston House,” a sweeping family saga, but I just couldn’t do it. It’s not that Danielle Steel’s books are bad. She wouldn’t have 2,000 books if that were true. I’m not trying to be elitist. I read everything. I just knew after closing the cover of book four that I couldn’t keep up this charade any longer.
The original purpose of this experiment was to discover how “changed” I was after an entire month of nothing but Danielle Steel. Even though I only spent a week and a half with her work, I still consider it a learning experience.
Here’s what stuck out to me in my brief foray into Danielle Steel:
1. The books are kind of redundant. Danielle Steel has gotten flak for being too formulaic, especially in her earlier novels (aka the ones I read.) In many of her books, the heroine grows up in glamour and riches, then is left impoverished due to circumstance, marries a rich man and finds her place in society. She always thrives. There’s always family drama. Now, they say “Write what you know,” and Danielle Steel knows wealth and couture, so I guess it makes sense.
2. The heroines are straight-up Mary Sues. Each one is impossibly beautiful, funny, plucky and smart. I don’t even remember the name of the heroine from “Passion’s Promise,” and I just finished it. Of course, I remember that she had long, ebony hair and almost-violet eyes.
3. I started gagging every time I read the phrase “He longed to take her in his arms.” It happens at least 15 times per novel.
4. THE HUSBANDS ALWAYS DIE. Always. The heroine always marries a rich man, has a few kids and then tragically loses it all again when her husband dies under tragic circumstances, usually at war. There’s so much drama! The second husband often dies, too, whether that’s fighting in another war or after choking his wife to death in a heroin haze. Yep, that’s real.
5. Danielle Steel is really into clothes. The author is a noted clotheshorse and famed couture customer, so when she writes about her characters’ clothing it’s easy to see that she’s passionate about clothing. Several of her characters end up as famous models or department store owners wearing Vionnet and Dior. It doesn’t get old. Keep talking pink wool suits forever, Danielle.
6. Despite their flaws, Danielle Steel’s books are semi-addictive and easy to breeze through. They’re like the Whole Foods brand of junk food: you know they’re not great for you, but they taste good and they’re not as bad as other options.