Irresistible Forces

symbol for electrical attraction is dust jacket art elementIn 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.

Irresistible Forces by Danielle Steel
Delacorte Press. ©1999. 372 p.
1999 bestseller #9; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Daddy by Danielle Steel

Front dust jacket has gold type on medium blue background, no imagesDaddy is most unusual for a Danielle Steel novel: It’s told almost entirely from a man’s viewpoint.

The novel opens with a brief history of the 18-year marriage of Oliver and Sarah Watson, who met as students at Harvard.

When she became pregnant, Sarah wanted an abortion. Oliver had talked her into marrying him instead.

Although Sarah hadn’t wanted babies, she’s a wonderful mother to their three children.  Oliver thinks they have a perfect marriage.

Then Sarah announces she’s been accepted into a master’s program at Harvard. She leaves right after Christmas.

The reactions of Oliver and the children are predictable: They’re hurt, angry, feel abandoned, wonder what they did wrong.

While they’re trying to deal with those issues, Oliver’s father is trying to cope with his mother’s dementia while also trying to pretend it’s not happening, and Oliver gets a big promotion that requires the family to move cross country to California.

Daddy attempts to explore the “What do women want?” question, but Steel can’t get beyond the surface. For Oliver (and perhaps Steel and her legions of devoted readers) the answer is that real women want a man and children.

Daddy isn’t a great novel, but it’s extraordinary for a Danielle Steel novel.

Three days after reading it, I could still remember the plot.

Daddy by Danielle Steel
Delacorte Press. ©1989. 352 p.
1989 bestseller #3; my grade: B-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Family Album

Front cover tells fans this is a Danielle Steel novel
A photo-less album

Danielle Steel’s Family Album is a 40-year dig into the personal lives of the Ward Thayer family.

As World War II draws to a close, silver screen sex pot Faye Price meets Ward Thayer while entertaining American troops at Guadalcanal.

The day he’s back in the U.S., Ward seeks her out.

People who don’t recognize Faye, know Ward. He’s the playboy heir to a vast fortune.

Despite the differences in their backgrounds and philosophies, they fall in love and marry. Within six years they have five children and a palatial lifestyle.

Unknown to Faye, they also have huge debts. Ward has kept spending while the family businesses went under.

Faye rolls up her sleeves and gets to work to cut their losses and start bringing income.

For 30 years, Faye is the real head of the family.

She becomes a film director and eventually persuades Ward to become a film producer.

While Faye and Ward repair the family fortunes, the trajectories of their children’s lives turn downward.

The characters in Family Album are like sock monkeys: They don’t develop in any noticeable way in 40 years.

Perhaps that’s why 15 hours after I finished reading it, I couldn’t remember what Family Album was about.

Family Album by Danielle Steel
Delacourt. 1985. 399 p.
1985 bestseller #9; my grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Keeper of the Bees nothing to buzz about

A wounded WWI vet walks away from an Army hospital rather than be sent to a facility where doctors predict his weakened body would succumb to tuberculosis.

Seeking surf and sun, Jamie MacFarlane hitchhikes and limps to the California coast, arriving just in time to summon medical help for the Master Bee Keeper.


The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter

1925; republished, Indiana University Press, 1991, paper, 505 pp. 1925 bestseller #3. My grade: C+.


Honey bee on flower is photo on "The Keeper of the Bees"Aided by a widowed neighbor and Little Scout, who is learning the apiary business, Jamie throws himself into getting his health back and using it to carry on the Master’s business.

Gene Stratton-Porter does her usual lyrical magic with her nature descriptions, but she fails characterization. Ten-year-old Little Scout alternatively sounds like Penrod and a Cambridge don—and Stratton-Porter is unable to make the plot grow out of her characterization.

The novel is full of loose ends and dropped threads, like Jamie’s walking away from the Brunson family who fed and sheltered him.

The action is further muddled by plot elements that mysteriously appear.  For example, a trunk develops a hidden lock between its first mention and its appearance as central part of the action.

Stratton-Porter was killed in an accident before this novel was published.

Had she lived to do some rewriting, The Keeper of the Bees might have been much better.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Biological clock ticks, alarms in Soundings

From age 8 until Curley kisses her, Nancy Hawthorne’s artist father is her teacher, mentor, and companion.

Though Nancy doesn’t want Curley, she knows she wants passionate love.


Soundings: A Novel by A. Hamilton Gibbs

Little, Brown, 1925. 320 pages. 1925 bestseller #1. My grade: B.


To divert her, Jim suggests art study on the Continent.

In Paris, Nancy shares a flat with an American. Cordelia introduces Nancy to her brother, Lloyd, and Lloyd’s best friend at Oxford, Bob Whittaker.

Foot of week-old baby

Nancy likes Lloyd but falls hard for Bob. He appears to reciprocate.

When her father is injured in an accident, Nancy rushes back home to Brimble.

Bob doesn’t write.

When Nancy goes to Oxford to find out what’s changed, she finds Bob with another woman.

Nancy devotes herself to painting and to her father, now a paraplegic.

On her 27th birthday, in the midst of World War I, Nancy realizes she wants children. Lloyd’s death in France ends possibility of him as a husband.

Then a changed Bob is temporarily stationed in Brimble.

A. Hamilton Gibbs writes passages of absolutely beautiful prose but leaves gaping holes in character development.

Although the other characters are shown in varied situations, Gibbs rarely shows Bob when he’s not pursuing Nancy. Thus the ending of Soundings leaves a vague sense of distrust that Bob has fundamentally changed.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 Photo credit: Babyfoot by johnnyberg @ FreeImages.com

Three Exemplary Fathers in Fiction

Good fathers are too dull for novels. At least that’s the impression the scarcity of exemplary fathers in bestselling fiction gives. I turned up just three interesting men in the bestselling pre-1970 fiction who have a demonstrable, positive impact on their own children.

Atticus Finch

To Kill a Mockingbird book jacketOf the three, lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird is the most famous. Atticus has achieved the status of an American icon. You can buy mugs and T-shirts asking, “What would Atticus do?”

Atticus doesn’t do much of what passes these days for fathering. He doesn’t coach Jem’s little league team. He doesn’t organize Scout’s birthday parties. He doesn’t help his kids with their homework.

Instead, he gives them a lap when they’re hurting, answers their questions, and makes sure they know right from wrong. And he lives his convictions so unwaveringly that people stand to their feet when he passes.

Charles “Stuffy” Anderson

dust jacket of Time and Time AgainA less well-known father is Charles “Stuffy” Anderson in James Hilton’s 1953 bestseller, Time and Time Again. Charles is both proud and embarrassed that his colleagues call him “Stuffy.” He knows he’s a stuffed shirt, but he tries to always be a man of integrity.

Charles sent his son to America when Gerald’s mother was killed in the London blitz. He’s hoping Gerald’s joining him in Paris to celebrate his seventeenth birthday will establish their relationship on a more adult level.

Charles regrets that having to care for his father, who was descending into dementia, kept him from seeing more of Gerald during his teen years, but Charles believed his first duty was to his father.

When he and Gerald are reunited, it’s clear that Gerald loves and respects his father and follows his moral example.

John Graham

gp_cover1John Graham is the last of the three exemplary fathers. Graham made a fortune in the pork packing industry, which allowed him to send his son Pierrepont to be expensively educated at Harvard. The fictional executive pens Letters of a Self-Made Merchant to His Son to give Pierrepont advice not available in those hallowed halls. (The actual author of the 1903 bestseller is George Horace Lorimer.)

The senior Graham writes conversationally, commenting on what his son writes to him and on what he reads between the lines of the son’s letters, and illustrating his points with humorous stories from his own experiences.

When his son does something of which he disapproves, his father tells him. When he does something of which his father approves, he tells him that, too. But Graham assumes his son will do the right thing as soon as he knows what that the right thing to do is.

Shared expectations

Although these fathers are very different men, they give the impression that they would find their children interesting and enjoyable to have around, even if those children belonged to someone else. These three fathers also share some common expectations:

  • They expect their children to be children.
  • They expect their children to be obedient.
  • They expect their children to do what they have been taught is right .
  • They expect their children to outgrow childishness as they grow up.
  • They expect their children to become good companions when they become adults.

With fathers like those, how far wrong could the children go?

Readers are only winners at Battle of the Villa Fiorita

Dustjacked of the Battle of the Villa FioritaRumer Godden’s The Battle of the Villa Fiorita is one of the few novels with a surprise ending that  feels right.

Away at boarding school, the Clavering children know nothing of their parents’ divorce until it’s settled. By then, their mother has gone to Italy with her lover.

Hugh and Carrie, devastated by their mother’s desertion, set out to bring her home from the Lake Garda villa where she and Rob are honeymooning while waiting to marry.

Glad as she is to see the children, Fanny is not about to go back to London.

Rob, who isn’t glad to see the children, summons his  own daughter to join them at the villa.

The only thing the three children have in common is dislike of the “other parent.”

As the children fight to restore their normal families, Rob and Fanny fight over how much parents owe to their children. Should the children always come first?

The point of view shifts frequently in the early chapters, reflecting the distress of the characters. As they become more sure of themselves, Godden steadies her perspective and picks up the pace. The story is streaking along when it slams to a close.

The Battle of the Villa Fiorita is a fight you won’t soon forget.

The Battle of the Villa Fiorita
By Rumer Godden
Viking Press, 1963
312 pages
1963 bestseller #10
© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Years of Grace is compelling mid-life reading

“When you looked at a child, Jane reflected solemnly, you could never believe that it would grow up to disappoint you.”

Margaret Ayers Barnes story of a plain Jane was compelling enough to send Depression era readers to the bookstore in droves and timeless enough for the Pulitzer Prize committee to award Years of Grace the 1931 prize for literature.

Jane Ward is a dutiful daughter of a respectable 1880’s American family in all regards except her unseemly friendships with Agnes Johnson, a newspaperman’s daughter whose mother has a job, and a French boy whose parents live in an apartment.

When André proposes to Jane, her parents refuse to allow the marriage or an exchange of letters until Jane is 21. By way of consolation, Jane’s father lets her go to Bryn Mawr with Agnes for two years.

André  goes off to study art in France. André writes Jane for her twenty-first birthday. He has an opportunity for study in Italy and won’t be coming to America. Heartbroken, Jane accepts Stephen Carter and weds him before he leaves to fight to fight the Spanish in Cuba.

Jane and Stephen have a happy marriage, three children, no money troubles. Jane focuses on keeping things happy, even when she falls in love with her best friend’s husband.

It’s only in the 1920s—a graceless age—when the children are grown and married with children of their own that Jane seriously considers whether she might have had a better life had she chosen some glamorously wanton experience over “durable satisfactions” that gave “solid Victorian comfort.”

An unassuming novel with the solid strength  of an old family heirloom, Years of Grace is a perfect novel for end-of-the-year reflections. Copies of the original are rare (Depression-era paper was very poor quality) but a 1990 reprint on lovely paper stock is available.

Years of Grace
By Margaret Ayers Barnes
©1930 ©1958 Margaret Ayers Barnes
Published Houghton Mifflin, 1930
Reprint Cherokee Publishing, 1990
1931 bestseller #5
581 pages
@2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Their YesterdaysReaders’ TreasureToday

Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life there are. No life can have less. No life can have more. All of life is in them. No life is without them all: Dreams, Occupation, Knowledge, Ignorance, Religion, Tradition, Temptation, Life, Death, Failure, Success, Love, Memories.

In Their Yesterdays, Harold Bell Wright does all the wrong things and turns out an exactly right novel, brimming with tears of joyous nostalgia.

A little boy and little girl grow up separated only by a hedge in a rural community. After she moves away, they lose touch,  but each remains a central figure in the other’s memories. Grown to adulthood, they face the normal challenges of life strengthened by the values they learned as children.

Eventually the grown up boy and girl meet again, marry, and raise a family.

Wright has a knack for fastening emotion in a phrase like a bee in amber. He tells of the lad “stretched on a cross of nothing to do.” He says, “One need not die to orphan a child,” and “Life itself is nothing less than this: a continual trying again.”

Wright doesn’t give his characters names. He doesn’t tell where they lived, what they did for a living, or relate any but the vaguest suggestions of the piviotal experiences of their lives.  He outlines the entire tale in the proem, quoted above, and organizes each chapter in exactly the same manner.  The book should be a disaster. Yet somehow Wright makes the characters so vivid they sing on the page.

And this was the true glory and the fulfillment of their lives…that they could see themselves renewed in their children and in their children’s children.

Their Yesterdays
by Harold Bell Wright
Illus by F. Grahman Cootes
1912 bestseller #3
Project Gutenberg ebook #6105