LEAP OF FAITH. By Danielle Steel. Delacorte Press. $19.95. 202 pages.
What do you say about Danielle Steel? The woman has written more than 50 books, which have sold millions of copies worldwide. Clearly, people connect with these novels.
And yet . . .
Steel's most recent novel, Leap of Faith, has a plot straight from a book of fairy tales (namely, Bluebeard and Cinderella). The protagonist, 11-year-old Marie-Ange Hawkins, lives in a chateau in France with her French mother, American expatriate father, and beloved older brother. When her family dies in an accident, Marie-Ange is sent to live with her mean, miserly great-aunt, Carole Collins, in Iowa.
She spends her teen years in a home devoid of love, encouragement, or support. Her only friend, Billy Parker, adores her and helps her to go to college when Aunt Carole refuses to lend her money or a vehicle in which to commute.
When she turns 21, Marie-Ange learns she has inherited $10 million. She jets off to France, meets a charming stranger living in the old chateau, marries him, and has two children before Serious Doubts kick in.
All in all, a perfectly good plot, even if it's been done. What's sad is how little Steel does to polish it and make it her own.
The writing can be flabby. (“There was a long, agonizing silence in the room as the two women looked at each other for a long time.”) But one of the greatest frustrations, and distractions, of this book is Steel's reliance on telling rather than showing. A few examples:
“Marie-Ange's life was perfect in every way. She had the kind of childhood most people dreamed of. Freedom, love, security, and she lived in a beautiful old chateau, like a little princess.”
“The friendship between Billy and Marie-Ange grew over the years into a solid bond that they both relied on. Through their childhood years, they became like brother and sister.”
“As Marie-Ange walked into the investigator's office, she felt her heart sink. It was small and seamy and dirty, and the investigator the bank had referred her to looked disheveled, and was unfriendly, as he jotted down some notes and asked her some very personal questions.”
While none of these passages will put you to sleep, an entire book of them grows tiresome. Any could be improved by adding some description, details, and dialogue.
Another frustration comes from Steel's waste of opportunities. At the opening of the book, Marie-Ange's brother gives her a locket just before he leaves on the fatal trip. The locket, of course, becomes an object of comfort for her. Will grim Aunt Carole try to sell it, or at least take it away from her? Perhaps her gold-digger husband will filch it and pawn it? Alas, we never hear about it again after Chapter Three.
Ditto for Marie-Ange's precious French clothes, sold by Aunt Carole for hundreds of dollars at the Goodwill store. Running into a schoolmate dressed in one of her French frocks at a birthday party could heighten the child's feelings of loss and betrayal - and that's just one scenario in which the clothes could have been used to great effect. But Steel bids the fancy frocks adieu after the store scene.
Still, the lackluster writing and predictable ending won't deter Steel's fans. They'll take the book on vacation and enjoy reading it over a couple of days. The question is whether anyone will remember anything about it a month later.
We wouldn't bet Marie-Ange's locket on it.