Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Story Versus The Book

For my March TBR Challenge book, I selected Jo Goodman's Never Love a Lawman.  Lots of people love this book, so let me get the most important thing out of the way first:  I really enjoyed it.  No need to call me a varmint or pull that Derringer out from your sleeve...

Fairplay, Colorado
It did get me thinking though, about the distinction between the story and the book.  The story of NLAL is pretty simple, with some frilly bits around the edges.  Rachel Bailey is a seamstress with A Past when the story starts.  She's got the attention of Wyatt Cooper, the sheriff of Reidsville, Colorado, a mining town in the Rockies circa 1882.  When Wyatt arrives at Rachel Bailey's house with a telegram informing her of a death, the story gets rolling like a rock down the hillside.  Their interest in each other, and their relationship, evolves naturally as they deal with the legal ramifications of the precipitating death.  (I'm trying to avoid spoilers here, people, so work with me.)  Eventually, the villain plays a role, everything gets sorted out and there's an event right off the menu of "Nice Things That Can Happen to a Couple to Show How Happy They Will Be After All" to round the story off.

Lovely characters, nice romance, what's not to like.

Old Town of Fairplay, Colorado
The book, on the other hand, is very deliberate in some of its stylistic elements.  It's long, for one thing - roughly 110,000 words.  That makes it pretty wordy and its pacing quite deliberate.  It moseys, meanders, strolls down the main street in Reidsville seemingly without a care in the world.  It's the Gary Cooper of romances. 

Some readers might find it slow.  I didn't, but I'll admit that it took me longer to read than two 55,000 word books back to back would have taken.  Part of that is that Goodman's prose is so languorous that it made my mind wander.  Also, whatever that have-to-read-another-page-to-see-what-happens-next quality is called (the quality that thrillers and romantic suspense novels absolutely have to have), NLAL doesn't have it.  With the exception of the last 75 pages or so, you can put this book down comfortable in the knowledge that Wyatt and Rachel will keep themselves amused until you get back.

Even the shifts between the hero's, heroine's and secondary characters' POVs are subtle and unheralded.  Rachel is kissing Wyatt when all of a sudden Wyatt is getting kissed.  (Is that head-hopping?  I no longer know.)  It doesn't hamper the characterizations at all; the townsfolk are all quite colorful and engaging companions and it's not hard to work out what Rachel and then Wyatt and then Rachel again are thinking.

Mining Spoils near Fairplay, Colorado
Lastly, there's a surprising amount of research in this.  I started -- on one of the occasions that my mind was wandering -- to picture Goodman in a mining museum in the Rockies, taking notes while looking at photographs taken after the Civil War.  Except for a wildly complicated legal premise (that no one but me could possibly be scratching her head over), it all seems perfectly plausible and appropriately used to enhance the story.

To recap:  Great story.  Good book.  And that's the difference between me-qua-reader and me-qua-aspiring writer.  If you're a reader and you like Westerns, you've already read it.  If you're a student of romance novels, Goodman's style might please you, bother you, or just hamper the charm of the story a bit.

(Oh, one last thing.  It's a great title -- Never Love a Lawman -- but completely misleading.  There isn't a page in this book where a reasonable reader could think, "Rachel's right not to love that man...")


  1. Magdalen--
    You are sooo right! The title does NOT fit the book.
    I enjoyed it. But, it did not make me want to run out and grab her backlist. Nor have I picked up her follow-on book.
    I have no problem with a longer story. After all, I cut my romance teeth on the longer historicals of the 1970's. But...the extra length has to serve the story. I felt it did in this one (though I have read others where the extra words were just so much padding).
    Your comment of "great story, good book" so reminds me of a number of books I have read. And I think that evaluation really nails this one.
    Thank you for publishing your take on this story.
    FYI, I would much rather read a great story in a not so great book than the other way round.
    (Hey, I'm a life-long Louis L'Amour fan. Absolutely great storyteller! Writer?Not so much.)

  2. Pretty much my reaction to it. I liked it, but didn't love it.

    And then I felt guilty for not loving it because SO many others did. I have the follow-up book in my TBR, and I really DO want to read it - but admittedly, am gun-shy. Again, because so many others LOVED it. And I'm afraid if I just "like it" they'll come after me with torches and pitchforks :)

    Why yes, I really am this flaky? Why do you ask? LOL


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