BY KATHLEEN DACEY

Author: Nora Roberts

1981, Silhouette Books

Filed under: Romance

Irish Thoroughbred is Nora Robert’s first novel. My book club chose it as a vacation from all the backbreakingly serious books (Townie, Just Kids) we’ve been mucking through. As expected, it’s an easy read, crushable in a single day. And although it’s a vapid book, it offers several steamy moments and a comfortably predictable plotline (much like a Lifetime Original movie).

We follow Adelia, a poor Irish orphan who immigrates to the US to work with her uncle, a hand on a horse ranch. Aside from the uncle, the only other character worth noting is the young boss, a wealthy landowner and horse breeder named Travis. Predictably enough, Travis and Adelia are beautiful, bull-headed, and destined to be together, just as soon as they overcome a few obstacles.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t only the love story that was predictable. Roberts’s characters embody every old-fashioned romance-novel stereotype possible. Adelia is the quintessential damsel in distress. She’s tiny, feisty, and rather dumb (it’s 1981 and, OK, she’s a country bumpkin, but still, she’s excessively impressed by the airport, a dishwasher, indoor fountains at the mall…).

Travis, of course, is her hero; which dictates, as per romance novel law, that he’s mean, unpredictable, lazy, and also (paradoxically) generous, loving, and trustworthy. He’s all these things, but without sections told from his perspective (a romance novel staple), he’s just, kind of… there, acting all brooding and/or charming but never justifying his weird behavior. I would have expected more from an author who describes herself as an expert on the male species. From her bio:

Through the years, Nora has always been surrounded by men. Not only was she the youngest in her family, but she was also the only girl. She has raised two sons. Having spent her life surrounded by men, Ms. Roberts has a fairly good view of the workings of the male mind, which is a constant delight to her readers.

Her hero’s lifeless existence isn’t the fault of a gap in her expertise on men, however: Irish Throughbred lacks realistic characters of any gender. Travis’s sister, Trish; the doting housekeeper; the stable hands; Travis’s evil ex-fiancé—they all lack that certain something that transforms a character from words on a page to someone I can connect with and believe in.

The exception is Adelia’s uncle Paddy, whose role carries more complexity, albeit in the form of disturbing, possibly incestuous creepiness. There are at least 5 Post-Its stuck in my copy of the novel that read “Sexy uncle?!” I mean, I can see hugging my uncle hello, but I rarely “embrace” him and I never make out with my boyfriend in front of him (Adelia frequently does both). Here’s one of the best examples of their strange relationship:

He touched her cheek, giving her a wistful smile. “Aye, lass, that I did but she [Adele’s mother] chose your father.” Deep green eyes filled with surprise that melted into sympathy. “Oh, Uncle Paddy!” she flung her arms around him and Travis turned from the door and walked silently down the stairs.

The uncle’s most important role is as a catalyst for the surprise plot twist: marriage between the unrequited lovers. See, as the hero, Travis “rescues” Adelia not only by giving her a job, but also by eventually marrying her, because their getting married is the only way Uncle Paddy, who suddenly falls ill, can rest easy in his hospital bed. It’s thin.

Why marry them before the epic happy ending, just to have them muck about for a couple more chapters? I would guess Roberts is trying to protect conservative readers who are horrified by sex before marriage, while simultaneously trying to churn out a few more nail-biting, will-they-or-won’t-they moments before ending with the fireworks of a mutual love confession.

At the point in the story when Adelia and Travis marry, they have had several hot make-out sessions—always right after a heated argument over the horses, or some other farm related matter—but they still act as though they can’t stand each other and are only marrying to appease Adelia’s uncle. Plots like this drive me insane.

And the make-out sessions. Travis is borderline abusive. For example, the first kiss:

“I’ve been wanting to do this since the first time you slashed me with your sharp Irish tongue.” He crushed her mouth with his, cutting off a heated retort. Too surprised by his action to resist immediately, Adelia began to experience unfamiliar and disturbing sensations, a heat and weakness that she might feel on a day spent working in the field. His hands were like steel around her small waist, holding her body suspended in the air while his lips assaulted hers…

These pushy, rage-filled kisses might not even have caught my attention—they’re prevalent in the genre—if they didn’t occur in the same fifty pages as a scene in which Adelia is nearly raped by a stable hand:

He grabbed her shoulders and closed his mouth over hers, the strong smell of whiskey assaulting her senses as she pushed against him … His hand clamped over her mouth and he pushed her down roughly in the straw-filled stall.

Of course this excerpt ends with Travis rescuing our heroine, protecting her from unwanted advances. It begs the question: in Roberts’s world how can a girl tell the difference between a good assault and a bad one? Is it all about how hot the dude is? Throw in the uncle’s long embraces and you’ve got… well I don’t even know. But I certainly don’t feel like I’m reading an expert’s guide to men.

Overall, of course, this book is exactly what I expected it to be: a guilty-pleasure romance novel with championship horses. It’s only when I started examining the themes and characters that I got lost in a maze of “Why’s the uncle groping her?” and “Why can’t Travis just say I love you?” and “Why is Adelia so surprised by appliances?” Read it, possibly even enjoy it (other members of my book club liked it better than I did), and immediately forget it. That’s the rule of thumb for romance novels.


Similar reads: Any of Nora Roberts’s other books—Google says there are nearly two hundred novels to choose from! Our club is going to read Roberts’s most recent book, Chasing Fire, sometime in the near future so we can compare what she wrote in the late seventies and what she’s churning out today. For a different author with a similar storyline, try anything with Fabio on the cover.

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