Saturday, January 30, 2010

Book Report: (Rereading) Dear John by Nicholas Sparks

When I saw the movie poster for Dear John a couple of months ago, I was excited. I'd read the book when it came out a couple of years ago and had found it haunting. So, I decided to reread it as sort of a refresher before seeing the movie.

I expected it to be less vivid, the way books sometimes are if you read them a second time. But it wasn't. It was sadder than the first time, maybe because I knew what was coming. The more I read, the more I realized the book was about two people not destined to be together. (Spoiler alert: you should stop reading if you don't want the plot revealed.) John and Savannah's dreams hinge on a mere two weeks together. During their next meeting, a year later, they're already starting to fall apart. One could argue that their time apart is to blame, but I think just the opposite. Distance kept the fantasy spinning, but once they're back in each other's lives it's evident that they aren't right for each other. Their differences cause them to fight about the kind of stuff that breaks people up, especially young people, all the time.
Maybe I sound cynical. But I'm not. Because it's John and Savannah's very unsuitedness that renders their story as extraordinary. Although he doesn't say so, I think John reups with the army because his last visit with Savannah showed just how much she's moved on in his absence. He's hanging around, wanting to spend every spare minute with her before he goes back, and she's going to class and making plans with friends. Not that she's wrong. When pressed, she admits that she keeps busy to help her be stronger when he leaves. So, they're distancing themselves from each other to avoid getting hurt: she by keeping busy and he by reupping. Yet the emotional distance only exacerbates the growing problem of their physical distance.

It didn't surprise me (during the first reading) when I found out that Savannah married Tim. The entire novel is set up for her to marry him. He's her best friend, they were brought up the same way, and their personalities are very similar. In a way, John is the interloper, sweeping in for two weeks, turning her head, and then leaving while Tim is left to pick up the pieces. The first time I read this, I sort of wanted to hate Tim. For being so perfect. For getting in the way. But I must have grown up a lot in between readings, because now it's clear to me that he's the one she was meant to be with. John knows that too, and his love for Savannah is so great that when he finds out Tim is dying, he gives her the money from his father's coin collection to save Tim's life. Even though both she and Tim seem resigned to Tim's impending death. Even though part of him still wants to be with her. Everything happens for a reason; John met Savannah so that he could understand his autistic father better just as Savannah met John so that he could save Tim's life. They're supposed to learn from each other, but they're not supposed to be together. That, I think, is what made the book so much sadder upon the second reading. Understanding that it was John who was the third wheel.

This story is about sacrifice. But it's also about what day-to-day love really means. There's that age old argument about who's better, relationship-wise: the person you find exciting and passionate, or the one you can depend on. When I was younger, I was so sure the first answer was the right one. Now I know that excitement fades without anything to back it up, and that it's the person who does the dishes with you and hauls your craft show stuff all over the state that's the one. You can see that woven throughout Dear John, early on when Savannah tells John about Tim picking her up from a date gone wrong, and at the end when she tells him about she and Tim restoring their house as two people starting out together in the world.

I think realizing all of this makes me even more of a romantic.

After I see the movie, I'll be sure to post about my impressions. I'm interested to see what they change (it's always something).

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