Editorial March 2005: The Patterson Appeal By Hilary Williamson
Most of the Letters that we receive at BookLoons are from James Patterson fans. What explains this prolific author's huge popularity?
First, he has an impressive range. I just counted 28 books listed on JamesPatterson.com. Though mostly thrillers, they include heartwringing contemporaries like Sam's Letters to Jennifer, an action-packed historical (The Jester), speculative fiction about illicit experimentation on part-avian kids (The Lake House), a classic holiday picture book (santaKid) and an (upcoming) exciting series for teens, Maximum Ride. Several Alex Cross chillers (the latest is London Bridges) have been made into movies (with more coming), and there are TV mini-series and TV movies in the works as well.
But what's the Patterson appeal? His writing is lean but not lyrical. His protagonists tend to be everyman (or everywoman) without a great deal of depth. And his plots veer into improbability, demanding a suspension of disbelief. So what's his deal? I have my theories. First and foremost, Patterson is a plotmeister. Opening one of his books is like getting onto a wild rollercoaster ride through a horrifically haunted house, chills and thrills guaranteed, surprises at every twisting turn, and suspense building along the way. This author knows why drivers slow down at accident sites or crowds gather at burning buildings - he taps into that universal human curiosity about disaster.
Patterson's heroes and heroines? They're all nice, uncomplicated people, ones we can safely trust. They're just trying to get along, despite the awfulness the author entangles them in. They have everyday emotions and remind us of people we know and like. Though they're only sketched in, the reader happily and easily fills in the gaps.
But that's not all to the Patterson appeal. IMHO, it also lies in the mechanics of his inclusive style. His chapters are short, the writing spare and simple, facilitating visualization of the action. Regular cliffhangers keep readers tuned in, even in this attention deficit age. Some fans have written to say that they read no other books, and one noted that she is reading better (despite the challenge of dyslexia) since discovering his Women's Murder Club. Of course, most Patterson fans also read other novels, but it's clear that his books have widespread appeal.
I asked Mary Ann (who met Patterson in Person at a book signing) what she thought ... 'I was impressed by his casual style that drew his audience in and held their attention. His humor is subtle and quite funny, especially when directed to himself. Also, there's his work ethic. The man is driven to write, but unlike some writers, Patterson is content to write and feels lucky that he likes what he does. He does it well and often. I also like his ability to give way to different slants in his writing. His books are not clones of each other.'
Whether or not you agree with our theories on the Patterson appeal, if you're one of his legion of fans, you have a great year ahead. In addition to the recently released Honeymoon, the new teen series, Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment debuts in April. A Women's Murder Club movie, 1st to Die, is available in DVD, and the next book in that series, 4th of July, will be out in May. And a new Alex Cross, Mary, Mary is planned for November, just in time for the holidays. Happy reading!
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