The Last Song – Nicholas Sparks
It seems that it took only a moment for The Last Song to reach number one on both the USA Today and New York Times lists of best-selling books. Such is the norm when Nicholas Sparks publishes a new novel. His previous novels, and the films made from them, have created a built-in and extraordinarily loyal audience. And, he is loyal to his audience, always trying to give them what they want.
This audience flocks to the bookstores when a new novel appears on the horizon. It helps that Sparks is as regular as an atomic clock and able to tell listeners at each reading when the next novel is coming out. There is an added twist this time: the movie is almost here. According to news releases, Miley Cyrus had read A Walk to Remember and was interested in some new Sparks project. As it turned out, Sparks was planning a novel about a female protagonist. As he was finishing the novel, he began co-writing a screenplay for The Last Song. So, as easy as that, January 8, 2010 is the release date in a theatre near you, starring Cyrus and Greg Kinnear.
The story is formulaic, but is imbued here with a great deal of life. The formula has each novel begin with a problem. A new player enters the playing field and it seems the problem will go away. This story is familiar. Whether you are a teenager or older, you understand the conflict between parent and child. You understand the difficulties associated with love, especially first love, in all its permutations. The story tugs at one’s heartstrings because it is so familiar and this time Sparks gets the reader invested in the story and the culmination of the characters’ stories. Of course, there are further complications and problems, but all’s well that ends the way life ends. We know, and the novel shows, that love brings both happiness and pain, that when everything seems to be working out the way we want, Life can, and often does, throw us a curveball. As in Elizabethan drama, no matter how dire the apparent ending, there is always an up tick which promises happiness.
When The Notebook came to the big screen, I thought it was just a movie – and it is. It’s a chick-flick romance that is unique only in that we get to see romance into the elderly years, when Alzheimer’s sets in and loved ones pray for even ten minutes a day of lucidity. It stars Ryan Gosling (Remember the Titans) and Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls), two actors who are able to bring a little magic into any sour film. Then I read the book by Nicholas Sparks –- a masterpiece that stuck with me long after I turned the last tear-covered page. The movie director, Nick Cassavetes (who also brought us Johnny Depp’s most embarrassingly bad film, The Astronaut’s Wife), could not have done justice to the novel by any means.
The first printing of The Notebook was in 1996, and it was one of Nicholas Spark’s first novels. Since then, the romantic genius has written A Walk to Remember, Dear John, and The Last Song, and you’ve no doubt heard of these as they, too, were made into movies this decade. The Notebook tells its story in retrospect. A man in his later years reads to an Alzheimer’s patient from an old notebook, reminding her of a romantic story she once knew, in order to bring her back to a lucid state. The story in the raggedy notebook is of two lovers, Allie and Noah, separated by World War II, who reunite seven years later. Allie has been engaged to another man during this time but needs to find peace with the first love she left behind. Unlike many romance novels, this book isn’t pulled along by sex – probably why it wasn’t much meant for the big screen. Instead, we are left wondering, “Who is this old woman being read to? Will she remember?” “Will the lovers in the notebook reunite after seven years apart, or will Allie keep her engagement?” and “Why didn’t I read this sooner?!”
If you thought men couldn’t write romance, you clearly haven’t stumbled into the world of Nicholas Sparks. His writing is beautiful in its truth. The characters are authentic, the plot is fantastic yet not unbelievable, and each scene flows smoothly together so we are able to understand a story told in pieces. Getting into the head of the characters was delightful. Sparks writes in a way that brings out the love, pain, and uncertainty that fuel his characters. When it rains in the book, the reader feels the chill and excitement of the downpour, and understands just how two people can fall in love as Allie and Noah do.
If the book were to be rewritten, the beginning would not be so rushed. The bulk of the story is told after WWII, in the days that Allie and Noah are brought together again after seven years. Readers are left thirsty for a sense of how things were when they first met, and the beginning of their love rather than the reunion of it. It is hard to imagine what sort of romance could last through seven years of separation, and Sparks would be most impressive if he were to let the reader feel it.
For those of you – and there are millions of you – that liked the movie The Notebook, pick up the book. You’ll see that a look inside the heads of the characters will show much more emotion and dilemma than the big screen ever can. For those of you that haven’t seen the movie yet but love romance, young or old, devour this novel. You’ll know exactly why I’m a Nicholas Sparks fan.