Author vs. Genre

I picked up The Dream Daughter, by Diane Chamberlain, because it is a time travel book. But as I examined reviews on both Goodreads and in the Facebook group “What Should I Read Next?” I found that I was a member of a tiny minority when it came to motivations: Apparently Diane Chamberlain is a big deal with a certain kind of reader, and many/most of the reviewers confided that they read this book despite its science fiction content, because they read everything by Diane Chamberlain.

My first thought was, Who doesn’t love a good time travel story? Apparently a lot of people! But since this is the one and only Diane Chamberlain novel I have ever read, I am judging her and her writing by the contents of this book about time travel, so my review will be differently framed than most.

When you type “If you like Diane Chamberlain…” into Google, you come back with a whole slew of names, most of whom are listed as authors who write “feel-good fiction with a twist,” “romantic women’s fiction,” and “hometowns and heartstrings.” There is also an occasional mention of historical fiction. But my experience of The Dream Daughter didn’t fit so much into those categories, perhaps because I was so focused on the mechanics of the time travel—whether the author would make it believable, workable, and without unnecessary paradoxes. And although the discovery of the mechanics of it were a little fuzzy, the carrying-out of the process was quite satisfactory. I don’t know whether she borrowed it or came up with it on her own, but the methodology is similar to that in the movie Kate and Leopold, in which the traveler must find both an ideal moment in time and a height off which to step in order to reach the proper destination. The portal timing and location is essential to the plot, since it is the main source of tension in the book—will she/won’t she (or he or they) make it to the location in time, will they land where and when they planned, and what happens when they run out of return options?

The plot begins fairly simply: Carly is a physical therapist in her early twenties. She helps Hunter, a previously uncooperative patient, to regain his health, and introduces him to her sister; he subsequently becomes her beloved brother-in-law. A few years later, in 1970, Carly learns two heart-breaking pieces of news: Her young husband, Joe, won’t be returning from the Vietnam War; and her as-yet-unborn baby daughter has a heart defect that will almost certainly prove fatal once she is born. The baby is all she has left of Joe, and Carly is devastated. But Hunter, a physicist, tells Carly there may be a way the baby’s life can be saved. If she believes him (instead of urging her sister to have him committed to the psych ward), Carly can take a leap of faith that may lead to a healthy daughter.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s definitely more relationship fiction than it is sci fi, but even a “soft” sci-fi element can materially contribute to an otherwise regular story if it’s thought through and properly integrated, which this definitely was. There were a few unexplained plot points that remained puzzling to me (such as the impatience and coldness displayed by Hunter’s mother on several key occasions), but for the most part all the characters were well developed and understandable, as were the situations and narrative, and it has just the right level of suspense and complexity to keep you reading. It shares with books such as 11-22-63, by Stephen King, that dire warning about avoiding changes to history by minimizing interactions, but then (like that book) allows its characters to ignore that warning in certain circumstances, to the benefit of the plot (if not necessarily to history). And this was definitely a gentler read than that angst-filled tome, but no less enjoyable in its more personal focus, and with plenty of similarly entertaining historical details as well.

I feel like this book could appeal equally to fans of relationship fiction, time travel and, of course, to most Diane Chamberlain devotees! I don’t know if I would enjoy her other, “straight” fiction as much as I did this one, but I may give one a try after this.

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