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Jumping the shark in fiction

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Does series fiction inevitably run out of steam?

Sarah Weinman points to this article about the marketing machine that is Janet Evanovich and adds,

[It] doesn’t really get to what’s likely the bottom line: that as the marketing hoohah has increased (and so too have her sales) the quality of the books have dropped off rather sharply.

But then, does it really matter when the publicity works so well?

I’ve only made it through number nine of the Stephanie Plum series, To The Nines and I’ll probably read the two most recent installments eventually, but I noticed a drop off in quality a while ago. They’re still enjoyable, mind you. Just not as much as before.

I didn’t grow up in New Jersey, but I lived there for a long time and I know people who grew up in the milieu Evanovich depicts: Ethnic working class types who still live within a few blocks of where they grew up&#8212if not still at home. Evanovich did a great job making the world of the burg, the neighborhood of Trenton where Stephanie lives, come alive. She also showed a great affection for the place and portrayed the characters without condescension.

The first few books also had this great antic quality, as our herione zipped along from one embarrassing incident to another. But as the series progressed, the antic quality became forced, more high strung than hilarious.

So I wonder, is it possible to sustain a series like this for any length of time? Or is it inevitable that such series will jump the shark like their TV counterparts?

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About Rachel

  • I got hooked by Seven Up, my first encounter with Evanovich – so if the earlier Plum novels are more antic than that, I’m due to explode! (My sister-in-law kindly loaned me her entire Plum collection…)

  • I dunno, maybe I’ve jumped the shark. I still enjoy the books, though.

  • In giving me her box of Plums, my SIL informed me that “these are really girl’s books.” (But she was the one who gave me Seven Up to read!)

    Now I’m wondering if she was trying to prepare me for a drop-off in quality. After all, she’s read One through Tem, and is on the library-list to get Eleven this week…

  • Start with one, you won’t be sorry.

  • Nick Jones

    King’s The Stand was where he Jumped the Shark for me.

  • the stand, really? I thought that book was great. rambling and longwinded, yeah, but still great. I’m definitely in the “it” camp, though, in regards to which one’s his best.

    i’ve never looked at one of these evanovich books, but maybe i’ll keep an eye for the first one now

  • Nick Jones

    Yeah, really. After three great novels and one good one, King finally found his voice – unfortunately, that was meandering overwrite combined with characters as thin as the paper they were printed on. If he were writing the character of Jack Torrance today, he’d be nothing but a one-dimensional, evil drunk, instead of the complicated, remorseful, demon-ridden father of The Shining.

  • I think it’s inevitable. An author always wants to do something new, while a publisher wants something exactly like the last best-seller. The combination results in poorly-written books that are “just like” the last best-seller. And they still sell!

  • Nick Jones

    Another shark jumper: Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series. After following Kinsey Milhone for a number of novels (through I, I think), I realized that she was really hostile towards letting anyone get close to her (except her geezer landlord), that she sabotaged any opportunities she had for relationships (even with long-lost family), and that I really didn’t like her very much.

  • Jumping the Shark has it’s patron saint in Ted McGinley. When Ted appears in the cast, the show has jumped.

    Is there a similar tell-tale sign in fiction?