Sunday, July 25, 2010

Nothing Lasts Forever

Sidney Sheldon, the world's most translatable author, died in 2007. I discovered him as a young adult, but my secret compulsion to read him did not quite end there. Once, in my 20s, while temping and snooping around, I discovered a Sidney Sheldon novel in my desk. That was all it took. I began to read it first at my desk, and then since I couldn't stop, under my desk, completely consumed. I could do nothing else but read that book. But that's pretty much what Sidney Sheldon's novels are like. It's not like you even have a choice really. Even his New York Times obituary had this to say: "Though most critics were united in their dismissal of Mr. Sheldon, a few conceded, grudgingly, that his work could be hard to put down." Well, yes, and as the man himself claimed in a 1982 interview: "I try to write my books so the reader can't put them down."

All right. So on this many agree. You can't put a Sidney Sheldon novel down. But why pick one up in the first place? Well, you certainly didn't read his books for their exquisitely crafted sentences. I mean, here's a nice example from Rage of Angels: "She sat ramrod straight, as though bracing herself against unseen ghosts of the past." Exactly. But at the same time who could resist the plot twists of his incredibly unrealistic but extremely satisfying stories of revenge. To generalize: his novels featured a young woman from a sad but hopeful background who struggled her way to the top. By the time she was an adult she was rich and beautiful and had an enviable life. Of course, you could read something like that anywhere. But no, that wasn't the whole story. You see, somewhere along the way, somehow in her life, this woman was wronged. Usually she was wronged by men who had taken advantage of her youth and innocence. It doesn't matter how or why this happened. Once this woman had made her way to the top, she spent the rest of her life tracking down and ruining the lives of anyone who had wronged her. And that was the satisfaction.

Sometimes it would take years for the revenge to take place. The woman would reacquaint herself with the person or people who had wronged her. Of course, now as a rich glamorous woman, she was completely unrecognizable from the poor waif she had once been. Amazingly, and in every novel, no one would ever remember having met this woman before. Which was perfect! She could just take her time, perhaps even allow some man to fall in love with her...and then strike! Revenge could take a number of forms: running a successful business into the ground, destroying a blissfully happy marriage, or sometimes it was just death. I still cannot forget the image of a woman casually tossing a blow dryer into a bathtub, where her unfortunate soon-to-be-electrocuted lover was bathing. This vivid scene taught me, at the age of 12, exactly how water and electricity do not mix.

I suppose what I learned from Sidney Sheldon is that life should not really be like a Sidney Sheldon novel. Spending your time obsessed with payback, though tempting, is probably not the best way to go about your days. And who really has the fortitude to build up a vast empire only to bring it down yourself in a glorious blaze of revenge? I confess that I probably couldn't manage this, no matter how ruthlessly I tried. And to be honest, it's not that I really liked Sidney Sheldon's books, so much as I am glad that I read them. Or rather couldn't help but read them. Or whatever it was that kept me turning the pages until I found that suddenly there were no more left to read.

1 comment:

Orlando Ozio said...

Well said. Often overlooked is Mr. Sheldon's yeoman work as a television producer--specifically his crucial role in shepherding I Dream of Jeannie, The Patty Duke Show, and the criminally underappreciated Hart to Hart to the small screen. His grasp of the tastes of a certain portion of the American public was uncanny.