Yes, it’s true, it’s all true.
In Nora Roberts’ new book, Carolina Moon, the characters are stereotypes, the action is predictable from start to finish, and the murderer’s identity is easy to figure out, especially if you have read a few other of Roberts’ suspense novels (hint: whoever you are set up to suspect, isn’t the killer). And yes, the point of view hops around so much it’s not just like watching a tennis match, it’s like watching a tennis match from the perspective of each player, all the officials, and several random members of the audience.
You know what? I didn’t care. Despite all of that, I thoroughly enjoyed Carolina Moon.
It helps if you don’t read the book as a romance novel. Yes, former po’ white trash Tory Bodeen gets her happy-ever-after with the plantation owner, but the story is more about various characters making terms with their pasts and, at long last, growing up into independent, strong adults. The romances in the plotline are less the raisons d’etre than the sign that at last the characters are capable of handling long term commitment. Tory is the center of attention, but the transformations of Cade and his bitchy sister Faith, and even Tory’s cousin, Wade, are equally important to the story.
From the first page to the last, it is clear that you are in a Southern small town that owes far more to generations of fiction, movies and television shows than much of anything resembling the real South. The folks are all…folksy, the gossip flies around, everyone knows everybody, and so on. In the hands of a lesser author, many of the characters would have induced groans and book-tossing from me.
But that’s the thing. Nora Roberts is the kind of writer who has perfect control over her story. The viewpoint shifts never got to me, I think, because there’s another character or voice at work over all of it, and that voice is Nora Roberts’ own. The voice of the storyteller, spinning out characterizations and descriptions that work, that sound and feel right, no matter how hokey in the particular moment.
And the dialogue! Even when Faith and Wade were having “shut up and kiss me” style fights, or Cade was telling Tory exactly what she needs (hint: it starts with s and ends with x), the dialogue flowed so smoothly that I could hear it spoken in my head, and it sounded good. Good in the way a satisfying confrontation on a soap opera sounds good, a “this is bad for me but I’m liking it anyway” kind of good, but it certainly kept me reading. There is a very good reason why Nora Roberts is a best-selling author, and that’s her skill at telling a story in a way that involves the reader despite the predictability of plot and characters.
Carolina Moon is excellent summer reading for poolside or beach, and I’m not saying that in a sneering way. It’s not easy to write good escapist fiction, and at the same time leave the reader feeling satisfied and not too manipulated by the end. Carolina Moon marries the best aspects of the sin-and-shopping genre of the 1980s, including the cast of dozens and the predictable yet oddly satisfying (and moralistic) resolution of the plot, and the Oprah books of the 1990s, with their down-home settings and subtler (but not too hard to swallow) messages about how life should be lived. Call it a guilty pleasure, call it popcorn reading, call it fun fluff – whatever it is, it works for me.