ROBERTS, NORA. Chasing Fire. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2011. 978-0-399-15744-8. Pp. 472. $27.95.
I have to admit that I got pretty worked up reading Nora Roberts's latest novel. The woman's oeuvre consists of almost 200 titles, 400 million copies of which are currently in print. God help us all. While Roberts is not the worst author I've had to read for this blog, her values are, to say the very least, misguided.
But first: this is a novel about a fire jumping base. Fire jumping (I'm explaining this because I didn't know it existed until I read this book) is the fire fighting practice of parachuting out an airplane and into a forest fire. It requires extensive training and a great physical condition.
The novel's heroine is fire jumper Rowan Tripp, golden haired, blue eyed, who can clock in a 5k at fifteen minutes, twenty seconds (a time, by the way, that would qualify her for the Olympics). She's tough and smart (I think this is mentions at least 120 times over the course of the novel, in case we dare doubt it's veracity). She's an alpha female. Which means that she's a woman who behaves like a sexist man. Herself a natural blond, she calls another blond she just met "Barbie"; she encourages her trainees by saying things like "you look like a bunch of girls strolling in a park". How does a girl stroll through the park? And how exactly is she different from a man strolling through a park? When "Barbie" struggles on an obstacle course, Rowan taunts her with "Do you want to jump fire or go back home and shop for shoes?" All this, and we're only on page 25. Of course, Rowan's behavior must be deemed acceptable because she's just a woman with an "attitude". Unfortunately, I still managed to be as offended by all this as I would be had Rowan been a man. Readers may be reassured to know that the men in the book are equally chauvinist. "Women suck" is something of a mantra in this novel.
Apart from outright sexism, getting into bar fights is the other half of the novel's honor code. The one night the entire team goes to a bar together, no less than three bar fights break out, leaving a number of the crew members unable to jump fire for the next few days. Do they get fired because of this? Nope, because they were defending their (or a woman's) honor. Apparently, if one's job is heroic and dangerous enough, one can get away with almost anything. Just like what Bush was saying when we invaded Iraq!
Of course, one should give Roberts's readership the benefit of the doubt. People aren't actually going to read Chasing Fire and turn into a hoard of Rowan Tripps. Still, such a widely-read author should refrain from planting the idea that woman-hating and bar fights are a necessary good in American society today.