The Witness, Roberts, Nora.

Nora Roberts, why does The Witness

seem so derivative?

First and foremost, I have to get the negatives out of the way. Two unappealing  things stood out. The first oncerned the portrayal of Liz/Elizabeth in the  first section of the book. The robotic crap and the effects of Mommie Dearest on Elizabeth was overwrought, unnecessary and actually ridiculous. I had one of  those mothers, and before I actually did rebel, I had thought long and hard about the “what ifs” of taking a step out of line. Once I wandered, well… there was no turning back.. but that’s another book. At any rate, Elizabeth was  a very unlikable character in the beginning. Her mother was too sternly drawn —  ridiculous — and the author spent the rest of the book using the mother’s bad  ways to demonstrate how far Eliz/Liz/Abigail had come to get out from under her.

The second ugly thing was the rendering of Elizabeth as counterpart to Lisbeth Salander from the Dragon Tattoo Series. It was so close, so mimetic, that several times I considered shutting it down — not resuming. I could stuck with  it in spite of being disgusted with Nora Roberts for appearing to “steal” from the very popular book and its very quirky character. Then again, that series was so good, those characters so sharp, it would be hard to eliminate them from  one’s consciousness… I guess. Nonetheless, neither Liz/Elizabeth nor Abigail  could hold a candle to Lisbeth. Lisbeth was so real, so alive, so believable,  that The Witness was like watching something from a distance, like through the  eye of a camera. Unlike the Salander trilogy, Witness had no passion… I don’t  care what the words tried to make us feel.

Enter Brooks Gleason. I did   not like the use of man/romance as a manipulative device to get Abigail to  loosen up. I think it’s an easy-peasy method of bringing the female character to  her senses — that is to  trust/love/have sex again. But I liked the character of  Brooks and really liked his family. Again, the comparisons to Salander are  inevitable. Lisbeth, with all her brains and brawn, with her moments of
softness, never once lost touch with who and what she was or her intentions.   Abigail/Liz/Elizabeth was a weakling, a robot who could not function without   mother’s direction.

So what is this book about? It is NOT about straying  from mommy’s discipline and getting people killed, it is not about the  consequences of a child’s bad behavior. It is not (entirely) about love and  romance or about revenge and one-upsmanship, though all these elements are piled  on heavily.

In the Dragon Tattoo series, Lisbeth was dedicated to her  work, and nothing, even her somewhat-one sided romance with Mikail, derailed her  from her intention or her NATURE. She would wreak havoc on her abuser(s), rob them and enjoy their money – she enjoyed a certain entitlement and as a reader,  I never once condemned her acts. For not one moment do we forget who Lisbeth is,  what she came through and why she did the things she did – and above all what  she is capable of and what she will not compromise. We never questioned what she  would be doing after the capers (Russians bad guys too, BTW_ — she would  continue being Lisbeth.

In The Witness, Elizabeth/Liz were personas  intended for extermination. There was never a question in the book that Abigail  would die or be tortured or identified by the Russians and have to fight her way  out of it. We knew that good ol’ Brooks would keep her safe.

But what Nora Roberts’ book IS about is the social outsider, the excluded, the invisible  among us. Where Lisbeth was an outsider, she was so by choice. Elizabeth Fitch  was an outsider by orders of her mother, Dr. Susan Fitch. The writer of this  book would have us believe that Elizabeth was so programmed that even in the few allotted hours of TV, Elizabeth did not ever absorb any of the images or  scenarios that TV provided. She could not imagine herself doing anything but  that which her mother had programmed for her.

Yet, when left alone for a  short time ( a few hours!) and following some small forethought, she transformed  herself from goody-goody to worldly and sexy and bad things came as a  result.

In the course of the book, during the romance with Brooks, during  the parallel stories of blackmail and spousal abuse in Bickford, Abigail (alias  for Elizabeth) comes to see the value of love, friendship and FAMILY. She was  like an alien who had not even First and foremost, I have to get the negatives  out of the way. Two unappealing things stood out. The first concerned the  portrayal of Liz/Elizabeth in the first section of the book. The robotic B.S.  and the effects of Mommie Dearest on Elizabeth was overwrought and both highly
unnecessary and highly ridiculous. I had one of those mothers, and before I  actually did rebel, I had thought long and hard about the “what ifs” of taking a  step out of line. Once I wandered, well… there was no turning back.. but  that’s another book. At any rate, Elizabeth was a very unlikable character in  the beginning. Her mother was too overdrawn and ridiculuous and the author spent  the rest of the book using the mother’s bad ways to demonstrate how far  Eliz/Liz/Abigail had come to get out from under her. The second ugly thing was
the rendering of Elizabeth to be a counterpart to Lisbeth Salander from the  Dragon Tattoo Series. It was so close, so mimetic, that I came close several  times to not resuming. Even I could not figure out why I stuck with it when I  was really angry with Nora Roberts for appearing to “steal” from the very  popular book and its very quirky character.

Neither Liz/Elizabeth nor  Abigail could hold a candle to Lisbeth. Lisbeth was so real, so alive, so  believable, that The Witness became only the eye of a camera by  comparison.

Enter Brooks Gleason. I did not like the use of man/romance  as a manipulative device to get Abigail to loosen up. I think it’s an easy-peasy  method of bringing the female character to her senses — that is to  trust/love/have sex again. But I loked the character of Brooks and really liked  his family.

So what is this book about? It is NOT about straying from  mommy’s intended discipline and getting people killed, it is not about the  consequences and punishments of a child’s bad behavior. It is not (entirely)  about love and romance or about revenge and one-upsmanship.

In the Dragon  Tattoo series, Lisbeth was dedicated to her work, and nothing, even her  somewhat-one sided romance with Mikail, derailed her from her intention. She  would reap havoc on her abuser(s), rob them and enjoy their money. We never for  a moment forgot who Lisbeth was, what she came through and why she did the  things she did. We  never questioned what she would be doing after the capers  (Russians btw) — she would continue being Lisbeth.

In The Witness,  Elizabeth/Liz were personas meant to be exterminated. There was never a question  in the book that she would die or be tortured or identified by the Russians. We  knew that good ol’ Brooks would keep her safe.

But what Nora Roberts book  IS about is the social outsider, the excluder, the invisible among us. Where  Lisbeth was an outsider, she was so by choice. Elizabeth Fitch was an outsider  by orders of her robotic mother, Dr. Susan Fitch. The writer of this book would  have us believe that Elizabeth was so programmed that even in the few allotted  hours of TV, Elizabeth did not ever imagine herself doing anything but that  which her mother had programmed for her. Yet, when left alone for a short time,  the reader is to believe that she had been concocting a transformation from  goody-goody to worldly and sexy. When all the bad things came, she was being  punished for her transgressions.

In the course of the book, during the  romance with Brooks, during the parallel stories of blackmail and spousal abuses  in Bickford, Abigail (alias for Elizabeth) comes to see the value of love,  friendship and FAMILY. She had not even seen families before? She had no clue  what to expect from families? Even on TV there is an element of reality that she  should have gleaned. Then Nora Roberts gives Abigail lines of stupid dialogue  and inner monologue to show us how wide-eyed she was about, for instance, how to  properly attend a family picnic. That was not cute but it was unnecessary. And  those good ol’ country bumpkins from Arkansas never raised an eyebrow or made  fun of her or questioned the wisdom of their dear boy Brooks’ getting involved  with such a weirdo.

The wrap up: The way Abigail was able to put  Liz/Elizabeth to rest forever, was trite and without complication. I seldom say  this; in fact I am usually complaining that a long book is too full of filler; but this book needed another hundred pages or so to play out the bring down of  the Russian mob – who could have been Italians, Latinos, African-Americans, Middle Easterners, or Asians. There was nothing especially ethnic about these  guys.

There was a lot of repetition of Abigail’s travails. There were too many insertions of Abigail’s unpolished demeanor (she’s 28 and she’s a computer genius and able to see the world from a distance. She would not have been that  socially inept — ever) — all this leads me to think that the author wanted to infantilize Abigail, keep her at the age of 16 when her world went whacko. If that was her intention, to socially handicap her by virtue of her failure to  mature, then all the rest, the lofty thoughts and fancy computing was ill-conceived.

Unforgivable: The absence of closure with the mother, Dr. Susan Fitch. Not that there should have been a reunion with violins and roses. In fact, Abigail replaced Susan with Sunny — and that was appropriate — but  there should have been some final check-in that Abigail might have initiated made to check on Susan’s failure to respond to her daughter’s disappearance. She could have even reached out to the donor father as Brooks suggested, tying together a package of parallel longings, forgetting and forgiveness. I think the exclusion of that closure with her biological family was a mistake.

So, really, this is about an outsider who finally wants in. She no longer is happy in her computer safe room. She is in love with a fine, sexy, powerful man (what other kind is there?) and she gets the nerve to open the door, so to speak. I love the outsider theme, but I hate that the outsider makes peace ONLY after she is rescued by sex and love.

What about the dog? Bert is a highly trained security animal, and yet, Abigail brings him to family parties, she takes him to a stranger’s home. My very limited knowledge of security animals tells me that a working dog is at work at all times. I could be wrong, maybe the working dog is also treated like a child, and expresses itself like a family pet would – all tender and loving, (just like Brooks Gleason). Something about that rang “off” with me, but I won’t press that point.  If you have not read the Stieg Larson trilogy – The Witness is likeable. In the aftermath of the Dragon Tattoo  rollercoaster, this is pablum. It lacks pulsing tension — it is no page turner, but it is a decent read, even if it doesn’t “feel” real.

This is the first Nora Roberts book for me. I will have a hard time trying another because I fear she writes those romance type books which depend on the love and attention of a handsome man to bring a heroine to wholeness. That is somewhat anachronistic in these times — especially when the heroine is a crack computer hacker/geek/nerd whose worldliness, in real life, would cause her to be repulsed by the old country charm, the low expectations and the Mayberry mentality. It is as if Abigail just needed a sexy man to break her mother’s spell and turn her into a country mama, with a young un on her hip, and grits on the stove, and we are to believe that this is her “prize” for breaking away from her mother’s prescribed agenda. YUCK

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