finding tough

Danielle Steel writes about passionate, ridiculous, fuzzy-around-the-edges love.

Reserve your groans, please. I know what you're thinking -- "I knew she was into chick lit, but seriously? From Camilla Gibb's gorgeous narrative to a romance writer whose stories are best left in the 1980s?" -- but bear with me for just one moment.

I'm thinking today about reporters chasing stories. I'm thinking about how journalists manage to gear themselves to go to Afghanistan, or how, amazingly, they might be willing to cover an epidemic illness spread easily. I'm thinking about safety, and about.... the mesh of courage and crazy it must take.

And so, to take it back to books -- and surely, there are much better books, and yes, I know that -- I introduce Message from Nam.

I was a pre-teen when I read this book, and I own it still. Although, admittedly, it's buried so far back in my bookshelves you won't find it.

Here was this woman who wasn't so different from anyone else living in a relatively middle-class, typical North American town. She went to university, and she wasn't so bad at writing, and she planned to write nice stories for a nice newspaper and marry a nice boy.

And then the war in Vietnam -- that conflict that has become a cultural touchstone to Americans and therefore everyone -- touched her life, took her fiance. And she went to war herself, as a journalist. It was so powerful to me to read about this person -- this fictional person -- putting her life on the line to tell the stories that needed to be told.

Yes, the story gets bogged down in romance. (Although, you have to hand it to Steel; unlike Disney, she is not a purveyor of the one-love/it's-all-fate myth. So, every time you think poor Pax has found the guy she should be with, he dies.) And, again, Paxton Andrews, the heroine, is not real. Plus half the time it's hard to tell whether she's endangering her life for her readers (yay) or for misplaced love (boo).

What always got me was the way Paxton changed, from this sweet little thing to a hard-talking, cut-throat chick who's on the helicopter flying away from Saigon at the end of the war. The woman who's covered the whole story to death and knows she is leaving people behind. I know, people. It's over the top. There are better books out there.

But it's a fairytale of a different kind, about a different kind of passion or drive or crazy or toughness.

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