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Heidi Hart

By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general. 

Frustratingly Scattershot Narrative

Drums of Autumn - Diana Gabaldon

Dare I hope that I have finally gotten the Outlander series out of my system? Don't get me wrong, I loved Outlander, but in hindsight I wish I'd quit the series after that first book. Dragonfly in Amber was too wretchedly grim to be an enjoyable read, what with Culloden and

Claire's stillborn daughter (miscarriage being a major trigger for me)

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. Voyager was just chockful of over-the-top plot WTFery such that by about two thirds of the way through, I simply could not willingly suspend my disbelief any longer. Drums of Autumn was more promising, in that it was neither crushingly sad nor insanely ridiculous, but Gabaldon's plot organization did not work for me at all.

 

Drums of Autumn jumps around in time and space between Claire and Jamie Fraser (in colonial North Carolina in the late 1760s-early 1770s) and their daughter Brianna and her sweetheart, Roger, in the 20th century. Brianna discovers that her parents are in danger in the past, so she goes back in time to warn them. Roger, discovering what she's done, follows her and tries to find her. Many, many adventures and misadventures ensue before the two couples finally settle together on Fraser's Ridge.

 

This hopping around among various times, people, points of view, and plots drove me absolutely batty. It felt like I spent the whole book being pulled from one storyline I cared about to a new scene, having to take time to set aside my resentment at the interruption and force myself to take an interest in the new scene and storyline(s), and just when I began to care about that, getting pulled on to something else entirely. Consequently, my overall reading experience was one of frustration rather than enjoyment. Moreover, at several points Gabaldon brought us right to the edge of a critical plot twist, and then jumped ahead, and only went back and told of the crisis in hindsight. I can think of three examples:

1) a big chunk of the first third of the book is devoted to a confrontation between Jamie and his aunt Jocasta, who wants to leave her plantation to him -- Jamie and Claire take off into the woods with the decision about what to do with the plantation still unmade, but then they find and have nookie in a pretty patch of strawberries in the mountains, and the narrative jumps ahead several months and suddenly they're building a cabin. Jamie's aunt has been nothing but kind to them, and for Jamie and Claire to take off without even having a conversation is both cowardly and extremely poor repayment for Jocasta's hospitality. 2) Brianna gets raped by the main villain of the story, Stephen Bonnet, but the rape is told in retrospect, only after the narrative reveals that she is pregnant. 3) Jamie and Ian, mistakenly believing Roger is the rapist, beat the snot out of him, and then the narrative jumps and we learn only several chapters later that they sold him to Indians.

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In my opinion, not only is this extremely frustrating as a reader, it takes away much of the emotional punch of these scenes, because telling something in hindsight when some (if not all) of the aftermath is already assured takes away the suspense of the event. The fact that Gabaldon repeatedly did this with the most critical plot twists of the story made the whole book feel anticlimactic.

 

There were other narrative choices that reduced the emotional impact, and thus my enjoyment, of the book as well. For most of the book, Roger and Brianna are separated, and both go through hell in the interim. Their reunion at the end should have been the joyful, emotionally cathartic capstone to which the whole plot was building, but because it is told neither from Roger's nor Brianna's point of view, but from Claire's, it totally falls flat. In fact, their reunion is entirely spoiled by a scene involving maggots and rotting flesh that came very close to making me toss my cookies... and people wonder why readers don't find Brianna and Roger as romantic as Claire and Jamie!