Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book Report: The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

The Best of Me, by Nicholas Sparks, reaches in and rips your heart out.  Which is to say that it's like every other Nicholas Sparks novel.  This particular story was one part The Notebook and one part Dear John, with a heavy dose of The Guardian's darkness tossed in.  Actually, the last three or four Sparks books I read seemed uncharacteristically vengeful and violent.  What's more, there seems to be a thread of spying at large in a growing number of titles.  Not, of course, in a creepy way, but in a do-gooder-just-watching-over-you kind of way.  Which, come to think of it, is a little bit creepy.  In Dear John, John skulks around Savannah's house for years even after they part.  Then there's The Lucky One, in which the entire plot hinges upon ex-soldier Logan pursuing a woman he knows from only a photograph. 

Easy-target jokes aside, no bestselling author spins a tale of unrequited love more poignantly than Sparks.  He drops characters into situations that force them to come to terms with their purpose in life.  That's the theme at the core of each of his stories, with the romance serving as the conduit through which these revelations are made possible.

So, The Best of Me.  Dawson and Amanda are two small-town North Carolina high school kids who fall in love.  He's poor, and she's rich, and her parents tear them apart by packing her off to a prestigious college.  This, of course, is The Notebook-y part.  But unlike in The Notebook, they don't meet again just seven or eight years later.  Instead, fate wedges twenty-five years between them, reacquainting them at, of all places, a funeral.  It's after this part that things get especially dark and dicey.  Then there's a bit of medical drama that seems heavily borrowed from Dear John.  At times it was all a bit too much, and I can see why a lot of readers may write it off as unbelievable, or even worse, cheesy.  But here's the thing.  It's this crazy course of events that clarifies exactly what it is that Dawson and Amanda are meant to be doing.  Because try as they might, they're too indecisive and influenced by worldly concerns to figure it out on their own.  Whether they end happily or tragically, Sparks's novels always give readers (or at least this reader) the sense that things are as they should be and that everything has gone according to plan.

If that sounded vague in terms of plot, then I've done my job.  The Best of Me is one of those books that would be spoiled by discussing too many details.  That having been said, I'll leave you with a quote that struck me:

"Too many people glorified small-town America, making it seem like a Norman Rockwell painting, but the reality was something else entirely.  With the exception of doctors and lawyers or people who owned their own businesses, there were no high-paying jobs in Oriental, or in any other small town for that matter.  And while it was in many ways an ideal place to raise young children, there was little for young adults to aspire to." (82)

There's a lot of truth in what Sparks says here.  I found this interesting, especially given that most of Sparks's books take place in small towns.  It made me wonder if, on some level, the deaths of his romances are symbolic of the death of small-town America.  Or, at the very least, that the romances are plagued by the same limitations.             

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