The Gift from Danielle Steel

a home in a 1950s midwestern town is in center of dust jacket
Country scene isn’t typical for  Danielle Steel novel.

The Gift is a radical departure for famed romance-writer Danielle Steel. There’s some romance in it, but it’s almost a coming-of-age tale set in the 1950s.

When Maribeth Roberson’s father refuses to let her go to the sophomore prom in a sexy dress, she changes clothes and goes with a jerk she scarcely knows.

When the jerk gets drunk, a handsome senior gives her a ride home. He takes advantage of Maribeth’s naiveté.

Sixteen and pregnant, Maribeth leaves home. She gets off the bus in an Iowa town, gets a job waitressing, hoping to earn enough pay for the baby’s delivery. She wants to give the baby up for adoption, then go to college.

Maribeth becomes friends with 16-year-old Tommy Whittaker who eats most nights at the restaurant. Home is too depressing since his younger sister’s death. After 22 years of marriage, his parents seem to have lost all interest in each other and him.

Steel’s organization of her story makes the ending too predictable for the novel to rate an A, but the characters in The Gift come across as real people. There’s not a Hermes handbag to be seen anywhere.

And Steel doesn’t glue a happy ending on her story. She just gives glimmers of hope for the Whittakers and Maribeth.

That ending feels exactly right.

The Gift by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1994. 216 p.
1994 bestseller #04; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Vein of Iron pulses with unsentimental goodness

The Fincastle family of Ironside is what, in the early 1900s was referred to as “salt of the earth folks.”

Poor, hardworking, highly principled, they can be counted on to tend the sick, comfort the dying, stick up for the outcast.

Vein of Iron  by Ellen Glasgow

Harcourt, Brace, 1935. 462 pages. 1935 bestseller #2. My Grade: B.

1930's commercial street  scene is on cover of paperback edition of Vein of Iron The boy Ada Fincastle plans to marry, Ralph McBride, is accused of getting a local girl pregnant. The families force Ralph to marry her.

Awaiting a divorce, Ralph entices Ada to spend a weekend with him before he is sent off to France.

Ada goes through the disgrace of an unwed pregnancy.

After the Armistice, they marry.

The family, including Ada’s father and her aunt, moves from Ironside to a poor section of Queenborough. They have money saved toward a home when Ralph has a car accident.

The household is just beginning to recover from that crisis in 1929 when the stock market crashes.

Ada’s father goes home to Ironside to die; the rest of the family go back there to live.

Ellen Glasgow tells the story in an unsentimental, matter-of-fact way that makes it feel like biography. That no-nonsense tone gives the novel authority and power.

You’ll come away respecting the Fincastles rather than loving them — which is precisely as they would have wished.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

In Bad Girl is Teen Parents Struggle in Slums

In 1928, someone was “a bad girl” if she had sex before marriage. By that definition, Dot Haley deserves her title role in Vina Delmar’s novel Bad Girl. However, the epithet doesn’t do Dot justice.

A friend sums her up better: “You’re an awful nice kid,” Maude tells Dot, “but you’re a moron.”

Maude got it in one.

Dot meets Eddie Collins at a dance. The first time they have sex, Eddie says he’ll take off work the next day and marry her. When Dot announces her wedding plans, he brother calls her a bum and kicks her out of the apartment.

Dot and Eddie marry. Within weeks she learns she’s pregnant with a child neither she nor Eddie is ready to have.

Dot and Eddie are both back-of-the-room, bottom-of-the-class slum kids. They’ve grown up among adults too worn out from grubbing for a living to even talk to their kids.

If they could talk to each other, there might be hope for Dot and Eddie, but they all they know is lashing out, profanity, and withdrawing into silence.

Delmar swings from Eddie’s thoughts to Dot’s, letting readers see the limits of their adolescent minds. The total effect is morbidly depressing.

Bad Girl
by Vina Delmar
Harcourt, Brace,  1928
275 pages
1928 bestseller  #5
My grade: C+

© 2008 Linda Gorton Aragoni