JAN / FEB 2013: BY RISSI C.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that great love stories are a motif the 21st century has failed to produce. When you think back on the last decade, it’s hard to come up with something that fits the parameters of what makes a lasting love story. Even the greatest cultural love stories usually don’t define love in its truest form. In modern culture romantic sagas are breath-catching yet rarely is there a love story that convinces us of its realism, nor has there been any “great” romances in many years. Modern authors like Nora Roberts and Nicholas Sparks satisfy the “surface” of love but completely miss the point —or that’s how I’ve always felt.
When you think of memorable love stories, where does your mind wander? Does it drift to the Margaret Mitchell epic Gone with the Wind, or the doomed tale of teen lovers in West Side Story or perhaps conjure images of Lizzie and Darcy? Fans of contemporary works will, in all likelihood, think of a name akin to Mr. Sparks; here is an author who cranks out more fictional romance novels than nearly any other author I read (seriously, does he ever not have a new book out!?). I saw an interview in which he stated his novels only ever have three possible endings: happy, sad or bittersweet. I read that and thought, “is there any other kind?”
Love can sometimes achieve the impossible is a tagline of sorts for one of Sparks novels. As a thought in a romance, it’s pretty… yet in his books, it becomes an ongoing theme that can often be dishonest. Everyone wants to be loved and experience it in its truest, most purest form. Today’s society twists the notion of romance and love (and even friendships) into something ugly.
Unless it serves a purpose that is greater than the romance, I’m a happy endings sort of girl. And if that’s not possible, there had better be a darn good reason to part the lovers. Nicholas Sparks isn’t an author who always wants to give his protagonists the kind of ending that leaves the reader in a blissful state of happiness. Sometimes he crushes our dreams along with those of the leading couple. Early on, as I read his books and saw his films, I scoffed at his repetitive ideals and mediocre plots. I have now had to revise some of those thoughts because he does have a way of telling a story that usually pulls me in, and as an avid reader that is something I appreciate. His characters are easy to like, leaving the reader desiring to help characters who seem more real than even the people we may meet in life.
Since Sparks has so many novels, I’d like to talk about just two of them. The Lucky One has a trademark sense of loss but not in the way we initially believe. It follows a just-discharged marine, Logan who finds a photograph of a blonde woman after a raid. Following his discovery, Logan’s life is tested more than once in situations that his comrades didn’t share the same fate—it makes him wonder, could this woman whose name is ascribed on the photo back only as “E” be his lucky charm? Searching for her seems the natural course of events, leading him to a place where “risk” takes on an entirely different meaning.
Then in what is dubbed a “departure from normal” for the novelist (and it is!) in Safe Haven we follow a frightened young lady who appears in a small coastal town. Katie has a past that has hardened her and made her cautious, which is why she keeps the kind-hearted, widowed store owner Alex at arm’s length. Eventually her guard drops and she begins to feel again—but the cost may be something she is never able to forgive herself for. The circumstances are different for both protagonists yet at the crux of the respective narratives, both Logan and Katie are running… one towards something (or someone) and another from something. Logan’s life is changed by a twist of fate and Katie’s from the result of a habitual pattern of bad choices—both people found that to fully live life, you must come to terms with the past before embracing the future. He didn’t know it but in taking a first step away from his family and running from a guilt that threatened to rule his life, Logan found precious things at the end of his rainbow trail. Katie’s past shapes up to be a similar scenario; she runs to protect herself, willing to risk never being able to live fully in order to remove herself from an unhealthy situation.
One thing Nicholas Sparks does well in the majority of his novels is buck the dishonest hypothesis that feeling love isn’t socially acceptable. That it displays weakness. Finding the person who makes life look safer isn’t weakness. Love isn’t weakness. Everyone desires that. Is it a false sense of security to want that? I don’t think so. Safety, like love, isn’t something anyone wants to free-fall from. It’s ingrained in us, from the time we’re a child to earning our longed for independence. We need a haven where we feel most true to ourselves. It doesn’t always have to be a romantic connotation; for some, it may be an environment, a place we work. For others, it may be a task, a passion. Logan and Katie find life and safety in the people who stepped up to be the “havens” they needed. Logan realizes he was meant to find Beth if only to thank her for what he feels is the reason he is still alive. Katie is trapped before she meets Alex, an honorable man whose first priority is to keep those he loves safe. Their respective stories may be meant for entertainment but the way that they come alive is more honest than readers give them credit for. And when the last word is spoken and the book closed, it’s not merely an ending, but the promise of much more. Happily ever after may be where the story ends but really, that is only the beginning… ■