Note: This piece contains spoilers for Marrying Daisy Bellamy by Susan Wiggs. Be warned!
As a reviewer, avoiding spoilers in my assessment of a novel is important. Generally, the rule is that anything that is revealed on the back cover summary or within the first 100 pages of a novel is okay to share; anything past that, would be spoiling the novel. Of course, sometimes it’s the information that occurs after the first 100 pages that make or break a novel. I’ve gotten pretty good at making my allusions to such events vague enough that my criticism (or praise) is clear, but the plot development is not.
But what about when a particular plot development would be a deal breaker for some readers? I see this sometimes on the message boards — readers asking for spoilers about a particular point, to see if they would be okay with reading a book. I hadn’t necessarily experienced that need before; I’d always either trudged through a book because I was reviewing it, or put aside a book that had some element that really bothered me. It was fairly simple. That is, until I read Marrying Daisy Bellamy.
As a reader of Susan Wiggs’ Lakeshore Chronicle series, Daisy and Julian’s story has always stood out to me, and like other readers, I eagerly awaited their novel and snatched it up as soon as I could. Early on in the book, it seems like a HEA is at hand: Julian proposes (in the first 100 pages). And then (and this is the big, massive spoiler)… he dies.
Not actually, of course. They just all believe him to be dead, while in reality he’s being held prisoner and being tortured by drug lords. But Daisy, and the reader, grieve for him. They bury an empty casket, mourn a future that will never happen, shed countless tears. (Yes, I cried. Copiously. My head ached and I felt vaguely ill afterward.)
I had no idea this would happen. Maybe I should have read more closely in between the lines of the vague back cover copy, but I didn’t. And so, while I had eagerly looked forward to a book where Daisy and Julian are finally together for more than a month or two at a time, as they’ve been separated throughout their complicated history, we once again find ourselves spending the vast majority of the book — their book — focusing on Daisy’s relationship with someone else.
I sincerely wish I had known that this was going to happen. In my mind, any review of this book would be totally remiss in not mentioning the specifics of this plot. This is a situation where I’m uncertain that vague language can compensate for something as significant as the heroine grieving for the deceased hero. (Even if the reader knows the truth, Daisy doesn’t — and that fresh, open wound of the death of the love of her life is draining.) And honestly, I’m not sure if I would have picked the book up if I had known this is what was going to happen. As it was, I skipped much of the middle part of the book.
The story of one half of a couple being presumed dead, but coming back to life, is not my idea of a romantic story. Movies like Pearl Harbor and Cast Away have this aspect, and all it does is depress me. It’s one of the few things I truly can’t abide in a romance, and yet it’s rarely part of the basic plot summary — at least not explicitly. This is the sort of spoiler I want to — need to — know before picking up a book. It’s a deal breaker for me.
It’s doubly unfortunate that Ms. Wiggs went this direction for Julian and Daisy’s story, because otherwise the book is very good. It’s well written, heart-felt, and deals well with relationships of all sorts. But it could have been all these things, without “killing” Julian. But that is why they call it a deal breaker. Everything else might be fine, but the choice to make Julian dead for most of the book ruined it for me.
Do you think major plot lines should be revealed sometimes, even if they might be “spoilers”? What sort of things would be “deal breakers” for you that don’t always find their way into the review?
– Jane Granville