In Irresistible Forces, Danielle Steel revisits one of her familiar plot hooks: the difficulties created when one party in a marriage wants children and the other doesn’t.
Here the high-power, happily married couple are Steve and Meredith Whitman. Steven is a surgeon in a New York City trauma hospital; Meredith is a Wall Street investment banker. Both are dedicated to their jobs, work long hours, consider themselves happily married.
Steve wants kids. Meredith doesn’t.
Meredith is arranging an IPO for a California tech firm, which means spending a lot of time on the road in the US and Europe with Callan Dow, the firm’s founder and CEO.
Callan is attractive, rich, divorced, with two kids. He tells Meredith that her unwillingness to have a child means she isn’t committed to her marriage. That rattles her, but she ignores it.
After the IPO is a success, Callan offers Meredith a job. Steve urges her to take it; he’ll find a job in California and they can have a baby.
Steel pairs both Meredith and Steve off with new partners.
It’s left to some other novelist to write the story of how both Meredith’s and Steve’s second marriages fail, which they surely will.
It’s possible that I’m reading The Klone and I all wrong, but I prefer to think Danielle Steel decided she couldn’t write another syrupy romance and decided to spoof the whole business. At any rate, her Klone is one of the funniest novels I’ve read in a long time.
The story is related by a woman named Stephanie whose husband tells her in the 13th year of their marriage that he wants out. She gets the kids, ages eight and 13. Roger gets alimony and quickly remarries.
Stephanie meets a lot of losers before she meets Peter Baker, an attractive divorce who runs a bionics company. Bionics is not a term Stephanie recognizes.
They slip into a relationship, though Stephanie’s kids think Peter is dull.
When Peter has to go to California on business, he promises her a surprise. The surprise is Paul Klone, a partially-cloned, partially bionic figure—read that as life-size sex doll—that looks exactly like Peter, only much, much flashier.
Stephanie’s kids think Paul is great.
And Steel gives him great lines like, “I love you Steph . . . you make my wires hurt,” and his whine, “In a few hours, I’ll have my head off again, and all my wires hanging out, and you’ll be back with [Peter].”
In The Long Road Home, Danielle Steel tackles one of the least savory aspects of romantic relationships: child abuse.
Gabriella is a beautiful, blonde seven-year-old whose mother flies into rages and beats her, being careful the bruises don’t show.
Gabby’s father is too spineless to object.
When the Harrisons divorce, Eloise Harrison sends Gabriella to live in a convent, while she moves to California and a new husband. John Harrison moves to Boston. Gabbie never hears from either of her parents again. When Gabbie turns 18, her mother’s care of her—a monthly check to the sisters—ends.
Gabbie is safe and happy, a Columbia University graduate, planning to become a nun when she meets Father Joe Connors in the confessional.
They hit it off too well.
When Joe has to choose between his vocation and Gabbie, who is pregnant, his own unresolved childhood trauma leads a third, most unhappy choice.
Gabbie once again has to start rebuilding a life for herself.
The combination of early childhood abuse and her convent-sheltered teen years make her vulnerable. Gabbie gets into another abusive situation.
Steel provides an upbeat ending that’s more hopeful than likely, but her story is as realistic as Steel’s romance fans can tolerate.
By literary law, every prolific novelist is required to write about two look-a-like individuals who change places.
Danielle Steel fulfills her obligation with Mirror Image, a preposterous story about the Henderson twins, who come of age just as World War I erupts in Europe.
Olivia, the elder sister by 11 minutes, and Victoria are distinguishable only by a tiny mole that one sister has on her right hand, the other on the left. The sisters are very close, but very different.
Olivia is the dutiful, domestic daughter to their father, who turned elderly when his wife died birthing the twins.
Committed to women’s suffrage, smoking cigarettes, and driving motor cars, Victoria is sure of herself, naïve, and totally shocked when the man by whom she’s pregnant won’t divorce his wife for her.
To prevent a scandal, Mr. Henderson arranges a marriage for Victoria with his lawyer, a widower with a young son.
Victoria hates children, hates her boring husband, and wishes her father had pushed Olivia off on Charles Dawson instead of her.
You know what happens. The only open question for Steel to settle is which of the sisters gets killed off in order for the story to end happily.
The leading characters in Special Delivery, Jack Watson and Amanda Robbins Kingston, are respectively 59 and 51. Their ages are the only unusual element in an otherwise totally predictable Danielle Steel romance.
Since a failed marriage that produced a son and one happy affair that ended tragically before marriage, Jack has been a most eligible and unattachable bachelor. He keeps his bed partners far from the altar but manages to keep most of them as friends.
Amanda was a Hollywood star 26 years earlier when she ditched the spotlight for marriage to a dull banker whom she adored. She and Matt had two daughters, Jan and Louise. Jan is married to Jack’s son, Paul.
As the book opens, Matt has just died.
Amanda and Jack exchange civil remarks at Matt’s funeral.
Almost a year later, Jan talks her mother into coming to a Christmas party Jack is throwing at his Hollywood store. Amanda surprises herself by being glad to be there, and Jack surprises her by being attentive and understanding.
Special Delivery is typical Steel fare, only about a hundred pages shorter than usual. The only suspense is waiting to see if your predictions as to the novel’s ending are correct.
The Ranch is a Danielle Steel novel that twists her usual romance formula to toward realism in a way that won’t disappoint her fans but will surprise her detractors.
The story is about three beautiful, sexy, and successful women who were college roommates 20 years before.
Now a celebrity music star, Tanya Thomas invites Zoe Phillips, a doctor at an AIDS clinic, and Mary Stuart Walker, wife, mother, and volunteer organizer for charitable organizations, to join her for a vacation at a Wyoming dude ranch.
Tanya’s third marriage is falling apart.
Zoe has just learned she has AIDS.
And Mary Stuart is seriously considering leaving the husband who has virtually ignored her for the year since their son committed suicide.
The three women quickly return to the honest, supportive familiarity of their Berkeley years.
The Ranchhas some terrifying moments of physical danger for the women as well as Steel’s more typical tear-jerk moments.
Of course, each woman finds the right man for her, but those men are not Steel’s typical sexy, white knights with fortunes.
And instead of sweeping the heroines off on white chargers to live happily ever after in glittering castles, the men take them by the hand along potholed streets uphill toward unforeseeable challenges.
On the outside of The Ghost are two 1990s divorce stories. In one, Carole Waterson divorces her husband (who thought they were blissfully happy) just as Charlie’s architectural firm recalls him from London to New York.
In the other, sportscaster and former Olympic ski champion Pierre Vironnet leaves his wife, Francesca, and their eight-year-old daughter, Monique, for a younger woman.
Charlie finds his company’s NYC office old-fashioned. Management won’t listen to reason. They gives Charlie a leave of absence, hoping he’ll quit.
Charlie decides to go to Vermont, but snow stops him in Shelburne Falls, Mass, where Francesca and Monique are already living.
Charlie rents a haunted house from an elderly widow, a miniature chateau Frenchman Francois de Pellerin built around 1800 for his English wife, Sarah Ferguson, who came to America alone to escape her abusive husband. In the attic, Charlie finds Sarah’s diaries (written in just after the American Revolution in 1990s prose), which inspire him to start his life over.
Before the temperature rises above freezing, Charlie and Francesca, passionately in love, are sitting on the historical society steps in a 30-inch snowfall.
The Ghost is not one of Danielle Steel’s best plots.
Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain is a rarity: A Civil War novel that isn’t written in clichés.
At Petersburg, Confederate soldier Inman was fatally wounded but he survived anyway. In chapter 1, he steps from a hospital window and starts for Cold Mountain, hoping Ada has waited for him.
Ada had come to Cold Mountain with her father. Inman wrangled an introduction. Before he left, she and Inman had an understanding. While Inman was away, Ada’s father died.
Ada is educated, but she has no domestic skills. On her own, she couldn’t survive. A neighbor sends Ruby to Ada. Ruby can’t read or write, but she can bargain. She offers to teach Ada how to run a farm. They’ll work together, eat together, but not live together. “Everybody empties their own night jar,” Ruby says.
While Inman hikes home, trying to stay healthy and avoid being caught as a deserter, the women try to keep a roof over their heads, stockpile food and fuel for the winter, and avoid marauding soldiers.
Frazier makes his characters and settings come alive in prose that never uses an unfamiliar word when a familiar one will work, never tells what he can show.
Danielle Steel’s Silent Honor is a romance played out during one of the ugliest episodes of American history: the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Hiroko Takashimaya’s father, a Japanese college professor, sends his 18-year-old daughter to study for one year in California. Hiroko has no desire to do anything other than be a good wife and mother, but she is a dutiful daughter and will do as her father wishes.
Hiroko finds her American-born cousins are totally American. Her uncle, a Stanford University political science professor, and her aunt, a nurse, regard her Japanese habits as quaint as her kimonos. Only Peter Jenkins, Uncle Tak’s assistant, seems to value her Hiroko’s Japanese heritage.
When the family is sent to Tule Lake detention center, Peter visits every day. Inevitably, he and Hiroko become lovers. When he’s posted overseas, Hiroko is carrying his child.
Steel makes Hiroko’s homesickness and her dedication to fulfilling what she regards as her obligations to her father and her American relatives totally believable. However, she fails to make Hiroko’s misery at college and at the detention center more personal than an encyclopedia entry.
Steel’s readers and Japanese Americans deserve better treatment.
Lightning’s Alexandra and Sam Parker are a happily married couple in the typical Danielle Steel mold: Alex is a successful lawyer, Sam a venture capitalist. They are good looking, intelligent, hardworking, wealthy, with a delightful, brilliant child and a devoted housekeeper.
Then, like a bolt of lightning, a routine mammogram discovers a possibly malignant mass. Alex opts for breast removal when a biopsy confirms she has cancer.
Sam, whose mother died from cancer, tries to avoid acknowledging Alex’s illness. He doesn’t want to even hear about Alex’s fears or her pain. Alex’s cancer is her problem. Sam just wants her to behave as if nothing is wrong.
Meanwhile, Sam’s company takes in a new partner. Initially skeptical of Simon, Alex is quickly converted to his cheerleader when Simon introduces him to his sexy cousin.
While Sam enjoys a hot affair, Alex vomits into the toilet in her office, ministered to by a junior staffer who had done similar service when his older sister who is Alex’s age, had cancer.
Although Steel avoids her usual plot formula, she doesn’t manage to make the story believable or her major characters realistic.
Lightning turns out to be just a flash in the pan.