Archive for March 4th, 2011


The Obstacle Race

March 4, 2011

After I finished reading Ethel M. Dell’s The Obstacle Race, I spent a while trying to figure out why I liked The Way of an Eagle so much. Some of it was obviously that I’d come up with an alternative reading that made things I normally find problematic a little less so. But I think amost of it was that it’s actually kind of a well put together book. I mean, Ethel M. Dell wasn’t a great writer or anything, but The Way of an Eagle really works. The subplots shed light on the central conflict between the hero and heroine. Separations between different sets of characters move their storylines forward. Everything moves toward the one climactic scene, and after that we get a brief epilogue to show that things are still going well, and then we’re done. Nothing is superfluous — I mean, except for all the flowery language. Once I realized that, I knew why I couldn’t quite like The Obstacle Race. It’s not the overuse of the word ‘mastery’, or the way that the heroine falls in love with the hero at least partially because he gets kind of scary when he’s mad, or the way Dell kills off the disabled kid brother, although those things were really not good, and sort of disturbing. It’s the way the plot is all over the place, and the characters are inconsistent, and the book drags on and seems like it doesn’t know what it’s driving at — although it’s hard to blame the book for that; I certainly didn’t know, and I suspect Dell didn’t either.

Presumably this is what happens when you’ve written a string of successful book and everyone talks about how passionate and romantic they are. You think up a bunch of random characters, each with a few conflict-creating skeletons in their closets, and let them be all passionate at each other until you run out of skeletons. And I’m sure that worked for Dell, financially. It’s just that there’s something to be said for, you know, figuring out in advance what’s going to happen. Read the rest of this entry ?