I first met Nicholas Sparks through the pages of A Walk to Remember. The poignancy that permeated the story seemed so real that it hardly felt like fiction. Then I learned it wasn’t fiction in the truest sense. His protagonist, 17-year-old Jamie Sullivan, was inspired by his sister, who died of cancer at age 33. By his own admission, Jamie’s story paralleled his sibling’s in many ways—her personality, her faith, her experiences, her longing to get married, the wonderful gift of love her husband gave her despite her terminal illness. The story didn’t exactly follow the typical romance guidelines because the happily-ever-after ending didn’t appear to happen, although Sparks insists the conclusion doesn’t say Jamie died. Even though he believed from the beginning that the cancer would take her, he couldn’t in the end state outright that she had lost her fight with the disease. (I still wonder whether part of the reason he couldn’t carry through with the finality of her death might have been because his sister was still living when he was finishing the book, and he couldn’t end the story based on her life that way while even the tiniest thread of hope of her recovery existed.) Whatever the reason, he left Walk open-ended. Nonetheless, many readers (including me) believed Jamie’s death was the only logical outcome.
Nights in Rodanthe, another of Sparks’ novels, also attracted me to his characters. Unlike most of his fiction books, it wasn’t inspired by actual people or events. Its only tie to reality is that the main characters are named after his in-laws. The story involves two middle-aged people (I was middle-aged when I read it)—both reeling from catastrophes in their own lives—who are drawn to an inn and each other in the town of Rodanthe, North Carolina. Adrienne, whose husband left her for a younger woman, is minding the establishment on the Outer Banks for the weekend to help out a friend; Paul is seeking refuge from the shambles of his life. When a storm traps the two strangers together for five days, unexpected feelings surge and love blooms. After they part to return to their own realities, they stay in touch via letters and phone calls until communications from Paul suddenly cease. You guessed it: he died.
These are just two examples that show Sparks’ penchant for writing tragic love stories. (See Message in a Bottle among others.) True, a lot of people never find what they are looking for in a mate; or, when they do, it may not work out for any number of reasons. That’s life. However, when I read a book, I want an escape, a reason to hope that one day I may be carried away by a knight in shining armor. Realistically, that’s not very likely. Idealistically, why not? (Yes, I have been accused of being an incurable romantic.)
What do you look for in a romance? Do you want the characters to do the happily-ever-after thing? Should hope spring eternal and obstacles be overcome so that they embark on a life of true love? Or should the harshness of reality on occasion separate them forever?
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