Rutgers Today, published by Rutgers University Communications and Marketing, recently featured a Douglass Alumna in its Alumni News. Author of the popular Stephanie Plum series, Janet Evanovich graduated from Douglass College in 1965, and was named to the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni, the highest honor given to Rutgers graduates of the University.
This prestigious list of more than 200 names includes a great variety of walks of life, from actor James Gandolfini to five former New Jersey governors. According to the web site, “Honorees have devoted time and energy to the greater good of society and Rutgers as well. Many have triumphed in business, sports, science, or the arts.”
Although Evanovich no longer lives in New Jersey, she is the perfect Jersey author (see if you agree with some of her quotes about New Jersey). Her books were part of our recommendations for summer Jerseyana-reads. “South River native Janet Evanovich has remained true to her Garden State roots with her immensely popular comedy-crime novels featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum,” as her profile suggests. The author also gives us more than a hint about the nature of these titles, when she says, “If you want to cry, you’re not going to like my books.”
The first in the series, One for the Money, was published in 1994. The books came a long way to the most recently published title, Fortune and Glory: Tantalizing Twenty-Seven, but their charming mixture of New Jersey arrogance, clumsiness, and Jersey-fresh humor has never lost its appeal. Set in the suburbs of multicultural Trenton, the plot of the series follows a certain pattern, taking the readers to some typical venues and locations of the Garden State. Details that only Jerseyans can appreciate are always there to lend the story credibility, for all its unpredictable, twisting turns. Dialogues are witty and snappy, descriptions remind us of familiar places and situations, and most characters might as well be our neighbors.
There are numerous references to Rutgers and New Brunswick in the Plum series. In Three to Get Deadly, Stephanie is dressed in a Douglass sweatshirt and in another book, she talks about taking nap in the Douglass Library!
What I particularly love about these books is the language, as it reveals more and more about the characters, actions, and situations. Every single character has a unique and consistent style throughout all conversations and reflections, which are always in concert with their actions. An absurd exaggeration of many of them adds to reality and humor, such as routinely exploding cars around Stephanie, Grandma’s fascinating revival in her second adolescence, wearing a blond Marilyn Monroe wig, a hot pink tank top, and black kitten heels, or the seemingly stereotype macho, but daring and caring Ranger, who can say “Babe” or “Yo” to mean a hundred different things.
My favorite recurring character, Stephanie’s partner-in-crime-solving Lula, is admittedly one of the series’ most controversial. Some readers may find her portrayal offensive, though I think Evanovich uses stereotypes in a winking, ironic way as she fills out a cast of characters that mirrors New Jersey’s own diversity. For me as a reader, Evanovich comes across as a loving caricaturist, but Amazon and Goodreads reviews make clear that your mileage may vary.
The jury is out on the Stephanie Plum series, especially if one tries to judge a book (written 20 years ago) by its cover today. Evanovich illustrates that it is possible to walk that fine line between funny and offensive, although the line has been moving ever since the first Stephanie Plum book was published. Some read these books to have fun or to escape reality, others to be appalled, but the bestseller status indicates that they sell, unless there is a significant spike in scholars looking for texts to analyze on controversial topics in bestsellers.
Narrated by Lorelei King, the extraordinary master of portraying characters with pronunciation, intonation, and diction, the later ones in the series especially make for memorable audiobooks, as the story moves along via the characters coming to life in her presentation. I must admit to laughing out loud on quite a few occasions while walking around and listening to them.
DISCLAIMERS, NOTES, AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
- Note on some of the audiobooks: “This program is produced for mature audiences.”
- Full disclaimer: Some readers might find these books disturbing for various reasons. Please read a few reviews pro and con, if you feel uncomfortable making your own decision to get started.
- Acknowledgment: The author of this post appreciates Nick Allred’s assistance to find a solution to preserve her original meaning while minimizing the potential for anyone to be offended.
More about the author and her books:
- Books by Janet Evanovich from Rutgers University Libraries
- The author’s homepage
- The movie One for the Money on IMDb (free with Amazon Prime)
- Accept some perennial writing advice from Janet Evanovich’s book, How I Write.
- Janet Evanovich in the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni