Saturday, August 24, 2013

What a Contrast!

I've finished two books within the past week, which is kind of unusual. I guess I'm procrastinating on putting together the syllabi for my classes (yes, school starts again on Tuesday, sniff, sniff). The first book, 10 Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, is one I've had on my to-read list for quite a while after finding it during a browsing session on Amazon; the other, Love Comes Softly by Jannette Oke, is an ebook I checked out of the local library when I was trying to figure out how to check out books with my Kindle app. Both of them lean heavily on romantic elements, but that's about where the similarities end.

I have to admit, of the two, I much preferred 10 Cents a Dance. Much. It's the story of a half-Polish, half-Irish girl living in Chicago at the verge of World War II. Ruby's widowed mother is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and so can no longer work to support the family. That means Ruby has to drop out of high school and work in the local meat-packing factory, which she hates, of course. But Ruby loves to dance, and when someone tells her she could make a lot of money at the Starlight "dance academy," she quits her day job and begins working at night as a taxi dancer for a nickel a dance and tips. (That's the only thing that bugged me - why is the book called 10 Cents a Dance when Ruby's salary was 5 cents a dance??? But anyway....)

The problem is, there's no way Ruby's strict Irish Catholic mother is going to go for her daughter working as a taxi dancer, which most people viewed as one step away from prostitution. So Ruby concocts a web of lies that her mother doesn't try too hard to pierce through, especially once Ruby is bringing in enough money to buy groceries and winter coats AND pay off the back rent.

This story was challenging. Some unpleasant things happen to Ruby, not the least of which is (SPOILER!) being beat up by her boyfriend. There's portrayal of racism and interracial relationships. There's the struggle Ruby faces between going far enough to get good tips and crossing the line into going too far. And all the way through, there is the tension of whether Ruby's lies will be found out and what the cost of those lies will be to her family. It's the kind of book that had me thinking about it for a good couple of days after I finished.

Love Comes Softly....well, granted, it's a different genre, Christian fiction, so Marty, the heroine, doesn't deal with life the same way Ruby does. Marty was on her way out West with her husband when he is killed in an accident, leaving her alone and pregnant. A local man who helped with the burial comes to Marty and makes a very forward proposition - his wife has died recently and he needs a mother for his young daughter. If Marty will marry him and be that mother, he will provide a home and food for her, with no expectation that she will be a "real" wife to him. Not having a lot of choice in a land of strangers, Marty agrees.

The remainder of the book shows how "Love Comes Softly" to overtake Marty, healing her loss and giving her a chance at a good life with a happy family and a loving husband. It's a sweet story.

So why do I much prefer the challenging story?

Here I go again.

Show, don't tell!!! Love Comes Softly is a sketch outline of a story compared to 10 Cents a Dance. The author consistently narrates what's going on and labels Marty's reactions and emotions for us rather than having Marty act or talk and allowing us as readers to figure out how Marty feels. Here's an example that just made me want to scream:
They soon gathered up the seeds and headed for the garden. The sun warmed the ground, making the freshly turned soil smell delightfully inviting. The two laughed together about how Missie, and soon Clare, too, would want to be getting their hands-as well as the rest of their little bodies-into the dirt. (my emphasis)
Please! Show us the two of them having a conversation and laughing together! Please let us see them falling in love. Don't just tell us it happened. Telling just leaves me feeling cheated out of the true enjoyment of a story.

Compare that to a passage from 10 Cents a Dance:
"Don't you think if we could get married now I'd have asked you?" he said. "I thought you understood, Ruby. I'm trying to get a foothold in this town, you know? And I'm close. Real close." His thumb wiped tears across my cheek. "Gimme a little while. Just until things settle down. Then yeah. Sure." His gray eyes gazing steady into mine. Flecks of gold and green and blue. My heart slowed down. A little while. 
"This thing with your mother's got you all riled up," he said. "It's driving you nuts. And it's driving me nuts. I'm tired of sneaking around, Ruby. I want to be able to see you when I want. You get your own place, we can do that. You want that, don't you?" 
As he talked, I looked at our hands twined together on my knee. Peggy had been right; nothing had happened the way I'd imagined it would. But those were little-girl dreams, babyish as the stories in Angie's romance magazines. Runaway heiresses and dukes in disguise. If you were savvy, you knew real life wasn't like that. 
I was savvy.

There's nothing wrong with the story idea for Love Comes Softly; actually, I'm a big sucker for stories like that. But oh! How I wish it were written in a style that would let me enter the world of the story rather than passively sit and have the author tell me everything she thinks I need to know.

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