"I am grateful for the continued existence of books. But I do worry that there are too many of them, too many people writing them, too many of them done too hurriedly, in search of too many bucks, too many barely worth reading. But we will survive, for some are real gems."
- Herbert Tico Braun
Professor of History,
University of Virginia
Mary Higgins Clark is a world renowned author. She has written fourteen best sellers, with over thirty-five million copies in print just in the United States. While most of her novels are considered by many as "real gems," on occasion, she too gets caught up in the world of bestsellers and she authors a book "done too hurriedly, in search of too many bucks" that is "barely worth reading" (Professor Braun). Clark sold her first short story to Extension Magazine in 1956 for $100, after six years and forty rejection slips (SimonSays.com). Following that, Clark wrote her first biographical novel about George Washington, entitled Aspire to the Heavens. She first experimented with the suspense novel in 1975, with Where are the Children? It soon became a best seller and was an important point in her career.
Clark is known for her "sheer story-telling power and breathtaking pace"(People Weekly 28). Her characters are usually very likeable and easy to relate to and her plots are well developed, including many interesting and shocking twists and turns along the way. Clark's plots grow quickly, yet strongly, and she is able to "successfully and skillfully juggle all the plot lines"(from critical essay of All Around Town). Clark has a reputation for being a "popular fast read", thus contributing to her success.
The Lottery Winner is a collection of short stories put together by Clark and published in 1994. The stories are all interconnected and revolve around the crime solving abilities of Mary Higgins Clark's character Alvirah Meehan (former cleaning lady who wins $40 million in the lottery) and her husband Willy. The pair is very likeable and is a favorite among many readers. One reader comments, "by the end of the book I felt as if I knew Alvirah and Willy, personally" (Amazon.com). This pair is what seems to be one of the only selling points for the novel. The overall plots and story lines of the short stories are heavily criticized and the notion of it being a best seller is even questioned. Clark seems to struggle with developing her ever-so-popular mystery in such few pages. This is also seen in other short story collections of hers, such as My Gal Sunday . According to most critics, Clark needs more time to create her masterpieces and the shorter versions don't do her justice as the famous author she is. The Lottery Winner , along with other collections of short stories by Mary Higgins Clark, was a best seller not because of its contents and the way it reads, but because of Clark's previous reputation.
Mary Higgins Clark's popularity comes from the development of her mystery and her characters. People continue to read her books for her usual style of suspense and mystery. According to Clark herself, the secret to her popularity is because "readers identify with my characters. I write about people going about their daily lives, not looking for trouble, who are suddenly plunged into menacing situations" (SimonSays.com). People enjoy her books for their easy, fast read appeal. Because of the light, but page-turning qualities of her novels, Clark's books are often seen as "great time-kill reading[s] in airports, planes, trains, and the like"(Amazon.com). Clark's easy to read, attention grabbing style is liked by many and her numerous novels have created quite a legion of dedicated fans who are willing to read anything written by "The Queen of Mystery".
Although The Lottery Winner isn't revered as one of Clark's bests, it still appealed to many of her readers. According to Publisher's Weekly, "There is no doubt that the author's army of fans finds her stories' very coziness and predictability reassuring." Proponents of the book are naturally attracted to the adorable and comforting relationship between Alvirah and Willy, "Willy smiled affectionately at Alvirah, looking with love at the woman with whom he had spent the best years of his life"(Clark 236). Some readers enjoyed the simplicity of the short stories over Clark's usual length novels. One reviewer writes, "I recommend this book for some easy light reading. It contains some exciting plots, not quite as demanding reading as some of her mysteries"(BarnesandNoble.com). While the short stories might not have Clark's usual content level, they are still a "popular fast read" which attracts the regulars, "If you want a couple of hundred pages of pure escapism to soothe the soul on a rainy day, this book could be just what the cleaning lady ordered" (Amazon.com). While the tales of Alvirah and Willy may not live up to Clark's usual reputation, they are still purchased and enjoyed by many.
Unlike Clark's other novels, The Lottery Winner did not receive such rave reviews, neither by critics nor readers. There is an almost unanimous feeling that Clark doesn't write as well in this condensed fashion, "the compression highlights her faults rather than her virtues"(Publisher's Weekly). In this short form, she is unable to develop plot, motive, or characters. Clark finds it difficult to create a good plot line in under fifty pages. It seems as though Alvirah has a "talent" for murder, however only because she seems to be in general area when it occurs and the guilty seem to leave a clear path to follow. Kirkus Reviews sarcastically comments on this, "After all, what chance do kidnappers stand when Willy's already fixed their plumbing, and Sister Cordelia and Sister Maeve Marie?who also happens to be his biological sister?are patrolling the streets inches away from their lair?" The plot lines of the short stories are very simple and lack suspense and twists. According to the Kirkus Reviews, "Clark's heart isn't really into the details of plotting whodunits like this but the remaining two stories of kidnapping which ought to be closer to her home turf, are even thinner." Clark just doesn't have enough time to form a plot like readers are used to in her longer novels. It is as though the stories are rushed; the reader learns of the crime, motive, and solution all within the first few pages.
Similarly, Clark has difficulty creating strong, dynamic characters in such a short time. While Alvirah and Willy are very likeable, one reader found Alvirah a "very annoying character and too overwhelming and her husband seems to be a dopey sweet guy who just tags along and doesn't seem to have much personality"(amazon.com). Alvirah's constant attraction to crime can be quite tiring. It seems that at times even her loving husband gets tired of her constant involvement in crime solving, "Willy's only response was the clatter of a spoon and a deep sigh"(Clark 63). Because of the lack of pages, Clark is unable to develop her usual, powerful characters.
The Lottery Winner isn't Clark's only collection of short stories that has received this sort of criticism. Many of the same things were said about another similar collection entitled My Gal Sunday. This is a similar series of short stories with a couple much like Alvirah and Willy, however this novel introduces "a new sleuthing couple, Henry and Sunday, an ex-president and his young congresswoman bride"(Amazon.com). Like Alvirah, Clark has trouble developing Lacey, one of the characters in the collection, "Lacey is a particularly obtuse heroine, always doing the exact thing that will get her into more trouble"(Booklist). The plot is lacking as well. The book is described by the Kirkus Reviews as "A Love Story with Detective Interruptions." When criticizing, the Kirkus Reviews compare its downfalls with those of The Lottery Winner:
"The real interest here, as in Clark's Alvirah and Willy stories, is in the romance of wealth, coupled this time with the potent fairy-tale mix of power, glamour, gentility, and a certain endearing obtuseness. Clark's army of fans won't find any unseemly surprises here?and will know better than to expect much in the way of mystery or suspense in this gentle, upscale epithalamion."
Readers seem to have similar feelings towards My Gal Sunday
as they do towards The Lottery Winner
, "Clark's legion of fans will find this pleasing enough, though not top drawer"(Booklist). Simply stated, Clark just cannot produce a plot and characters that meet her usual standards in such few pages.
In autumn of 1992, Mary Higgins Clark signed a $35 million contract with Simon and Schuster. This contract included the writing of four novels, a memoir, and a book of short stories (Boston Globe). Some reviewers and readers believe that this collection seems rushed partially due to her contractual obligations, thus contributing to the divergence from Clark's usual quality. "It seems as if her intent was to get a book out as soon as she could whether it was any good or not"(Amazon.com). It seems as if Clark was in a hurry to get this book written and published, therefore taking away from its contents.
This point reiterates what the quote by Professor Braun was trying to say, "too many of them done too hurriedly, in search of too many bucks." This says a lot about Mary Higgins Clark and many other best selling authors. Once a writer has earned the title as a best selling author, often times they seem to get caught up in the money making and rapid production of books which tends to take away from their writing. In Clark's case she was commissioned to write a collection of short stories along with other books in a specific time period. In essence, she was forced to produce, and it proves that she was unable to produce as successfully as before. Clark might be aware that she is not as talented with short stories, however because her publisher asked her to write short stories, that is what she had to do, even if it meant sacrificing her skills as a long mystery writer.
Mary Higgins Clark is known in the book business as a blockbuster author. Others in this category are writers such as Danielle Steel, John Grisham, Tom Clancy and many more. These sort of authors are usually supported by one publishing company (in Clark's case Simon and Schuster), and their books are announced with enormous advertising campaigns. Promotion of The Lottery Winner included national advertising, national author publicity, a six city author tour, a twenty copy floor display with a riser, and a twenty-four copy mixed floor display with a riser, including twenty books and four audio cassettes (Publisher's Weekly). Her book was also advertised in a huge promotional campaign by Simon and Schuster, which consisted of four silver pages of advertising which included the cover of Publisher's Weekly. Basically, once an author writes one bestseller and gains the support of a major publishing company, his/her books are most likely going to sell, no matter what their quality. With the advertising Clark had for this novel, combined with her already well known and well liked reputation, it is no wonder that The Lottery Winner was a best seller.
Blockbuster novels are usually best-sellers because people "have a clear sense of what they are going to get: a Danielle Steel novel is always?well, a Danielle Steel novel" (Gladwell 49). Similarly, while some are better than others, for the most part, a Mary Higgins Clark novel is always a Mary Higgins Clark novel. When consumers enter a large bookstore they are often overwhelmed by the nearly infinite choices. Since many people in today's society live fast paced lives, they do not have the time to read the backs of every book that looks interesting to them, so they go for what they know best. In the case of The Lottery Winner people went for Clark's novel because she is one who the average public knows best and usually enjoys, not because they had heard rumors of its astounding literary qualities.
There is usually a common sales trend seen with such blockbuster best sellers; "Within days of publication they leap onto the best seller lists. Sales start high--hundreds of thousands of copies in the first few weeks?and then taper off"(Gladwell 49). This same trend was seen with the sales of The Lottery Winner. Five hundred thousand copies were sold in the first printing (Publisher's Weekly), and after two press runs 2.1 million copies were sold. These figures show that Clark's novel became a best seller because of good marketing and because it falls under the stereotype as a blockbuster best seller, not because it was critically acclaimed.
The Lottery Winner's successes as a best seller can be attributed to the reputation of Mary Higgins Clark not to its level of writing. Clark struggles to perform in such limited space. This is seen not only in The Lottery Winner, but also in My Gal Sunday, another collection of similar short stories. Critics and readers agree that the shortened version takes away from her usual skillful plots and intriguing characters. Because Clark has such a dedicated group of followers and such excellent promotional techniques, her reputation and fans saved her on this one. Too many more like this and people might start jumping off the band wagon. Clark needs to stick to her long version, suspense novels, the ones that earned her the title as "The Queen of Suspense."
Amazon.com. 29 November 1999. http://www.amazon.com
BarnesandNoble.com. 27 November 1999. http://www.barnesandnoble.com
Clark, Mary Higgins. The Lottery Winner. New York: Simon and Schuster,
Doten, Patti. "mystery Women." The Boston Globe August 19, 1994:47.
Gladwell, Malcom. "The Science of the Sleeper." The New Yorker. October
Kirkus Reviews. Rev. of The Lottery Winner, by Mary Higgins Clark.
Melton, Emily. Rev. of The Lottery Winner, by Mary Higgins Clark.
Booklist. vol 91, 15 October 1994:371.
SimonSays.com. 28 November 1999. http://www.simonsays.com
Toepfer, Susan. People Weekly. June 15, 1992. v37 n23 p28(1).