Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Author Profile: Catherine Anderson

I thought I'd start off with an author that isn't exactly unknown, with more than two dozen titles and a number of NYT best sellers, but who may not be quite the household name of say, a Roberts or a Krentz.

Catherine Anderson writes both historicals and contemporaries, usually set in the American West. Her contemps have more than a dash of old-fashioned cowboy flavor, as many of her characters are ranchers or have dealings with animals--horse trainers/racers, veterinarians, etc.

The books that I'm wild about from Ms. Anderson are a subset of her "Kendrick/Coulter" line. The entire line can be called Cinderella stories, where the heroine struggles against some kind of seriously stacked-against-her odds, but the ones I like the best are a handful of titles featuring disabled heroines.

Romances have traditionally featured couples who were beautiful and, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. Of course, there is always that "fatal flaw," which in most cases is a thinly-disguised virtue, along the lines of answering the job-interview question "What is your greatest flaw?" with "oh gosh, I'm such a workaholic, I really have to be careful to limit myself to no more than 75 hours a week." Or a trait that would be regarded as a horrible drawback for a woman of the times but admired by us more enlightened modern -day readers-- eg, an interest in politics, a flair for finance, etc.

Ms. Anderson takes a bit of a different approach to the "fatal flaw." In My Sunshine, the female lead, Laura, is brain-damaged. Yes, you read that right: "...a head injury [that] impaired her ability to use language and forced her to abandon a brilliant career," is how the back cover describes it. "Brain damage" is how it sounds to me. In Phantom Waltz, Bethany is a wheelchair-bound paraplegic; and in Blue Skies, Carly's romantic storyline is woven together with a roller-coaster ride of a disease that threatens her eyesight.

You might also think that it would be weird for a bunch of related people to all end up with disabled partners-- and you'd be right. Not all of the Kendrick/Coulter stories follow this pattern, so that helps. Those that do, relate back to the first of them in a believable way, I think, by insinuating that the first couple, Bethany and Ryan, paved the way, literally and figuratively, by illustrating that with love (and tons of money), all things are possible. Still, a certain extra measure of suspension of disbelief is needed on this particular account.

On the surface, these are situations and characters that are a bit extreme even by genre standards. But the reason that these work is that they are really just like any other romance: the girl gets her boy, who loves her not just in spite of her flaws, but loves the total person that she is, flaws, disabilities and all. As a side benefit, Anderson offers us a glimpse into the everyday lives of women with physical disabilities and the challenges of creating accessible environments, without making the stories feel like an After School Special on Noble Suffering Martyred Crippled Girls. The characters are fully three-dimensional and while their disabilities inform much of their everyday lives and activities, there is far more to the characters than the disability.

Some analyses of the appeal of fairy tales for children, especially the most gruesome, theorize that, by experiencing their own worst fears (lost in the woods, death of parents, etc) in a safe way-- ie, fictionally, through the characters' experience-- kids get a chance to process their fears on a subconscious level and be reassured that there is always Hope for a happily-ever-after.

I think that Anderson's stories function a little bit like that, at least for me. I'm sure I could think of more horrible fates, given time and perhaps a daily newspaper or two, but I have to tell you that losing my faculty with language, my ability to process information, and my career-- not only the one I have, but *any* career that I can imagine as fulfilling-- is one of my own worst adult fears. And yeah, I know it's fiction, but reading through to Laura's happily-ever-after is still satisfying on that very basic level.


Anonymous said...

Intriguing. I'll have to check out one of her books. Sounds like I might like them.

Anonymous said...

I've read several in that series and really enjoyed them. I'm glad you're blogging about this genre and looking forward to some great recommendations.


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