Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Nora Roberts has been criticized on the grounds that her plots are recipe-driven and her characters stale and uninteresting. Yet this American grandmother has hundreds of thousands of fans who do not support that view. Not only has Roberts continued to churn out romances, a new one very six months or so, she has a very different series whose main character is a homicide detective in the year 2051. Taking these two series together, an interesting profile of Nora Roberts emerges.
However, her latest book Under Currents addresses the implications of taking children away from a home life dominated by a sociopathic father and their conniving mother versus the individuals who grow up in a dysfunctional family and remain there. Contained within the story is the situation of a life with an abusive husband – and the decision to stay with the marriage or break away. [Why the title is given a two-word form is beyond me].
Roberts brings a lot of experience to her plots and characters. With each book, the same sort of events follows their course. She varies her locations but sticks to what she knows, usually small to medium-sized towns with properties adjoining. Her choice is undoubtedly reader-driven. She knows what her readers like and it’s easier to stick to a punishing schedule if her plots do not vary much but continue to satisfy her readers. She has broken the unending series of similarity just recently with the publication of Year One and Blood Bone. These books are set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic New York city peopled by ‘weirdos’ and other gangsters who prey on their fellows. All are waiting for the One to arise and fix their current worries.
I prefer the stories Roberts has written since she began her series of romances back in 1981. Under Currents provides a definitive picture of the way abusive fathers cover their own actions. Dr Bigelow is the senior doctor in a certain town. It is his children Zane and Britt on whom the doctor and his wife vent their spite. Having spent considerable time gaining the approval of the local Chief of Police, the doctor finds it child’s play to blame the son’s and daughter’s injuries (40), inflicted by the father himself, on his son. We see the cunning of the father, the pathological lying of the wife, who supports him in his crimes, and the strength that the children possess. We are privy to the dictatorial aspect of a man who orders his son to cover up for him (51), and the arrogance when he claims his status at the hospital requires that he be believed without question. He sees himself as a god-like figure commanding his inferiors and demanding unquestioned obedience:
“You can consult with your piece-of-shit client all you want. I’m making it my mission in life to see he’s put away for the maximum sentence allowed by law. My goddamn mission (Detective).
I’ll bury you. All of you.”…
“I gave them life!”…
“They owe me for every breath they take” (88).
In a later period, after the children have grown to adulthood, Darby McCray becomes the love interest in Zane’s life. She has been abused by her partner Trent but she broke away, divorced him and had him jailed. When her mother is killed, she sets up in business in a new town. She becomes very successful. By contrast, Traci Draper is in an abusive partner situation but does not leave until someone shows her how to leave her husband Clint and his family. The husband reacts in the only way he knows and blames others for his wife’s defection. This is the way of the Draper family; it is predictable.
Each of the characters has been drawn with a magician’s pen. We know what they stand for, and the weaknesses or strengths they hold. Darby suffered a broken marriage, and is wary of further commitment. There is no subtleties in Nora Roberts’ writing. She understands her characters and hides none of this information from her readers. Staying with the script, using her psychologist instincts and the undoubted research she has done prior to writing, Nora Roberts has produced in Under Currents a thoroughly, pleasurable read.
By Nora Roberts
$ 29.99; 503pp