This is a writing sample by “nycghostwriter,” AKA Barbara Finkelstein. It is “Taking a Chance on Romance,” a book review published in New York Newsday. You can get professional ghostwriting services from a published non-fiction writer. Email me or fill out the short form on my contact page.
New York Newsday | Sunday, May 14, 1989
GARDEN OF LIES, by Eileen Goudge. Viking, 534 pp., $19.95
THE NAKED HEART, by Jacqueline Briskin. Delacorte, 532 pp., $19.95
By Barbara Finkelstein
After I read Garden of Lies by Eileen Goudge, and The Naked Heart by Jacqueline Briskin, I called my sister, an editor of romance novels and sagas, in a quandary.
ME: I expected to find these books uninteresting, but now, two weeks later, I find myself occasionally thinking about the characters.
MY SISTER: Why are you whispering?
ME: I’m embarrassed. I know that the plots are predictable, the prose is a little purple, and the history — even though it’s supposed to be a shadow in the characters’ lives — doesn’t really affect them.
M.S.: You couldn’t put the books down.
ME: Well, I felt compelled to read them. But I was shaking my head a lot in disbelief.
M.S. In other words, you liked them.
ME: When it comes to pacing, suspense and control, Briskin and Goudge are pros. The dialogue reads like a made-for-TV movie, but it flows. My complaint is that both novels are so deadeningly alike.
M.S.: You’re dealing with genre fiction. Genres rely on formulas.
ME: Would you sit up past midnight reading (CE)2 plus (CD)2 equals (ED)2?
M.S.: You did!
ME: I did. I read Garden of Lies first, mostly because it came with a promotional page about Eileen Goudge herself. Her life reads like a rags-to-riches story. Twice-divorced mother of two becomes a successful writer of teen romances, marries “Prince Charming,” lives in a “palatial Chelsea townhouse. . .”
M.S.: It happens.
ME: Everything happens to her characters. Garden of Lies starts out with Sylvie Rosenthal going into labor at Bergdorf’s. She’s married to Gerald, a banker. She’s never been passionate about him, but he rescued her from a life as a poor bank teller, so she’s grateful.
M.S. He’s lousy in . . .
ME: Yeah. Their handyman, Nikos, is the baby’s father. If Gerald sees the dark-haired child, though, he’ll throw Sylvie out and she’ll be back on Poverty Row. Conveniently, there’re a fire in the maternity ward and Sylvie switches babies. We’re supposed to think Sylvie is a wonderful woman who would rather give up her flesh-and-blood child than her box seat at the Metropolitan Opera.
M.S.: Fate is more important in these books than morality. Go on,
ME: The rest of the novel follows the lives of Rose, Sylvie’s real daughter, and Rachel, her adopted one. Rachel grows up on Riverside Drive in splendor. Remarkably, wealth doesn’t spoil her Goudge doesn’t elaborate, but I guess Rachel feels guilty about her privileged life, so she becomes a clinic doctor. Rose, meanwhile, lives with Rachel’s real grandmother, an embittered tyrant. She grows up emotionally and financially deprived, but turns into a confident, brilliant, loving, well-heeled lawyer. Very believable.
M.S.: Not every abused child becomes a washout. If Rose had ended up a drug addict, you’d complain that she was a cliché.
ME: I don’t object to success stories. It’s just that the wars, abortions and betrayals that befall these women don’t really affect them. Sylvie, Rachel and Rose end up married to the right people and become tops in their fields. Money comes looking for them.
M.S.: Well, this novel isn’t a formula unless both women fall in love with the same man.
ME: They do! His name is Brian McClanahan. He and his childhood sweetheart, Rose, plan to get married, but then he gets drafted and goes to Vietnam. Guess who he meets there? Rachel! Rachel literally brings Brian back to life. A couple of months later he rescues her from the Vietcong and they get married. By the way, he becomes a literary sensation practically overnight.
M.S.: And at the end of the book, Sylvie unravels the secret of Rose and Rachel’s past?
ME: Not before Rose defends Rachel in a malpractice suit. It’s all very tidy. Even Nikos, the handyman, gets rich.
M.S.: I like it already.
ME: Well, then you’d like The Naked Heart too. It also follows the lives of two women, Gilberte de Permont and Ann Blakely. They’re best friends during the Nazi occupation of Paris. Gilberte’s aristocratic parents are Resistance fighters; Ann’s impoverished parents are bumblers who stupidly betray them. Gilbert vows she will make her father’s traitor suffer “down all his generations.”
M.S.: And both women . . .
ME: . . . fall in love with the same man! He’s Quent Dejong, Gilberte’s cousin, an American, and an OSS agent who winds up in a concentration camp. And guess what: He’s a banker! But does he court only rich women of the world? No. He loves plain-Jane Ann. She reminds him of his dead mother. The motor of the story is Gilberte’s ruthless vengeance. After the war when she, Gilberte, Ann and Quent move to America, Gilberte stops at nothing to make her father’s traitor suffer “down all his generations.” And because she marries Quent, she spares no expense.
M.S.: Only she loses Quent in the process, right?
ME: Do I have to tell you to whom?
M.S.: I think you ought to say that the writers have fulfilled the requirements of the genre.
ME: If I were ravenous and I ate a bag of potato chips, I might take the edge off my hunger. But I’d still feel unsatisfied. These books are entertaining to read. But what do they say about life? That the schemes of evildoers backfire and hard work makes you rich. It doesn’t matter what goes on in the world as long as true love wins out. What ever happened to Bogie’s, “The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans?” Goudge uses the Vietnam War, and Briskin World War II, as mere romantic backdrops. They offer some hair-raising scenes of danger so that Brian McClanahan can rescue Rachel and Quent Dejong can rescue Ann.
M.S.: And these rescues bind the lovers together.
ME: For all eternity. You know, Wessex was world enough for Thomas Hardy, but Goudge needs Manhattan, London, Vietnam; Briskin shuttles back and forth between Paris and Manhattan.
MS.: It’s not fair to compare them. Hardy wrote with immortality in mind. The others will be happy if they endure until 1991! They don’t write to improve their souls. It’s a living.
ME: And the language! When it doesn’t sound like the comic books — the tears of Goudge’s heroines “splash” — it’s over-explicit, as in Briskin’s calling an erogenous zone “epithelial flesh.” I wouldn’t want to spend my life reading this stuff.
M.S.: How about a few hours? Hey, the next time you come over? Bring the books, OK?
Barbara Finkelstein is the author of Summer Long-a-coming, a novel.