The world can never be free of Nicholas Sparks.
I have realised this. I may not have embraced it, but I have definitely acknowledged the fact that in the world of bizarre, strange, intriguing, generic, and down right bland interests, Nicholas Sparks fills a void.
He is the reason why prematurely grey actors still can find work; why action heroes can still make movies in the off-season, why women (and society in general), have completely unrealistic ideas about
a) Men’s letter-writing abilities;
b) How life really works in the armed forces;
c) How many people really own houses on the beach.
His novels/screenplays/adaptations are responsible for the summer Blockbuster Romance that is inevitably released every year, adding to the falsity of people’s expectations about romance, love and life in general.
He has filled the void previously only partially satisfied by Hallmark and Danielle Steele.
My first brief foray down the road of Nicolas Sparks was via A Walk to Remember. The movie of course, because prior to that I would have totally been all like Nicholas Who?
But with Mandy Moore looking impossibly dewy and earnest, and Shane West, the epitome of the hot, troubled-but-with-a-heart-of-gold-that-just-needs-to-be-touched-by-the-right-unpopular-girl rebel with slouchy jeans and spiky hair.
Throw in detention, a school play, an ugly-duckling-to-swan-moment, and SINGING and you have the making of a story that would make a 13 yr old hyperventilate.
In the case of two roads diverging in the yellow wood? I wasn’t choosy – I was happy to go down whichever one didn’t contain Nicholas Sparks.
But – it’s been a few years – and the question remained – would we be happy to see each other again…?
See Me, by Nicholas Sparks, is an investment you would really want to be sure of, before you dived right in, with prices starting at $12.34 for an ebook.
I wasn’t sure, and perhaps that coloured my views before I’d even started…
See me just as I see you . . .
The story starts with a mildly interesting prologue, from a stalker-esque POV; watching a family and two girls, fixated on one of them in particular.
Quelle interessant non?
I thought so.
The opening chapters then switch to alternate POV’s between
- Colin Hancock: with a former life riddled (apparently) with drugs, violence and the threat of prison, he is attacking his second chance with obsessive, ferocious (and slightly concerning) determination;
- Maria Sanchez, lawyer, paddle-boarder, amateur photographer, and not including her family, a bit of a loner. She is beautiful, (luckily) and Colin is too.
Colin has tattoos.
Maria had clouds of dark hair.
You know these two are totally going to have a chance encounter, possibly in some almost (but not quite) life threatening situation which will require rescue.
Then the meet cute chapter.
A rainy night, a wind-swept road, a car with a flat tire and a Valancy eye-rolling over the cliche.
Colin has just been in a fight – he looks dangerous. Maria looks wet (with a possible see-thru blouse).
He stops to help – she accepts despite her reservations about his ‘dangerous’ appearance.
I know my first inclination on a rainy isolated road in the middle of the night, is to accept the help of a heavily-muscled stranger who has evidence of violence literally illustrated across his face….
But it turns out he was really a nice guy (albeit monosyllabic, awkwardly truthful, hiding a dark past) and bonus points, because he actually attends the same college as Maria’s sister.
Its like 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon – only I don’t get to drink every time I find a connection…
I am going to be completely honest here, I didn’t finish this book.
At 47% I really felt I had dedicated enough of what tiny and extremely valuable reading time I have to this lumbering dinosaur of a novel.
At 45% do you know what had happened? Sweet F-A – that’s what. Oh – do you need me to be more specific?
- Maria and Colin had known each other for the entire total of like 8 days (don’t quote me – I am sure it was less than 10 – but they all BLURRED into one after a while); and had decided they were in love.
- I had seen no evidence of the interesting stalker POV since the opening prologue. (As an aside, the stalker-person had actually been obsessing over Maria’s sister – not Maria – and since then – all I have had is Maria and Colin.)
Also — and this really was the clincher: THEY WERE THE TWO MOST BORING PROTAGONISTS ALIVE. In the history of the world, of the universe, of the GALAXY!!
At pg 370 – almost halfway through the book, Maria finally receives a bunch of flowers with an obscure note, that makes her wonder.
Yes – finally – an actual plot point pops its head up – like punxsutawney phil – only, like phil seeing his shadow – it ran back into its burrow and I didn’t read anything about it again.
It went back to the inanity of minutiae that was Colin and Maria’s relationship.
At page 375 (of 833!!!!!)
‘They traversed the length of the Riverwalk while the setting sun slowly turned the river to gold, then leisurely browsed through whatever shops caught their interest. By the time the moon had begun to glow over the horizon, they finally stopped for dinner, and as she sat across the table from Colin, she found herself hoping that her parents would get to know this side of him, the one that made her feel comfortable and at ease. She wanted them to witness how happy she was when she was with him. On their way back to her condo, she invited Colin to brunch again, even if she wasn’t sure her parents were ready for another visit.’
SERIOUSLY. You don’t even need to read that: basically ‘blah blah blah boring – look at my hair.’
Colin isn’t much better:
Colin did a quick warm-up; arm rolls and leg swings, a few minutes of jumping rope. By then, Todd Daly, the main instructor and a retired UFC fighter, and Jared Moore, who was fighting professionally but not quite at UFC level, had arrived, and Daly led the entire group through more warm-ups.
While awaiting his turn in the cage, Colin worked on his ground skills: arm bars and leg locks, various submission holds. Most of the skills had their roots in the martial arts and wrestling, with speed, instinct, and balance being far more important than brute strength. As was usual during Saturday classes, Daly demonstrated the moves first – occasionally using Colin as a partner – before the group split in two. Each group was given a chance to practice the move, repeating it ten or twelve times before switching positions with their partners. They would then move on to a different set of skills. Within ten minutes, Colin was breathing hard; by the half-hour mark, his shirt was drenched. Through it all, Daly critiqued them – telling them where to place a foot for additional leverage, or how to wrap more effectively with the legs, the subtle variations endless.
There was so much TELLING – and so little showing – It drove me insane. Did Sparks assume this was going to automatically be made into a movie – and was providing as much visual direction as possible? Like a NS movie-by-numbers?
I am sure Nicholas Sparks doesn’t care if I don’t like his books – He has like 97 million other people who do…
He doesn’t care if I think his novels are lazily formulaic, and filled with pathos, with a complete disregard to any kind logos. That his books are devoid of honest emotion. That he has become a BRAND rather than an author.
He’s probably just glad I paid full price for 2 books and one movie ticket…
But I CARE. Why do I so despise the world and characters which Sparks creates, when if you pull away all the marketing and hype, they are very similar to novels which I really DO love.
Case in Point:
A GQ article pondering the Sparks phenomenon, encapsulated the structural elements of his novels:
- He uses small towns, not cities;
- His characters use small town libraries to access the internet.
- They rarely use cell phones, or cars – some don’t even own cars.
- They walk and ride their bikes;
- They live by the ocean.
- The complete lack of current and or dated technology creates this place that could easily be 50 years ago, rather than today.
Well that all struck a bell… hasn’t Betty Neels done exactly the same thing?
Didn’t she create a fictional overlay of a real world, imbuing it with strong, heroic (and often very tall) Rich Dutch Doctors, nurses and secretaries with snapping eyes and beautiful clothes? Her characters very rarely had phones, and mostly rode their bikes everywhere, (unless they were being chauffeured about by the RDD in a silver silent beast of a car…) Didn’t Neels also create a timeless and technology free place that could have existed anywhere in the past 60 years?
So why do I love her books and hate Nicholas Sparks?
Am I just contrary?
Well – I was starting to feel a little bit like bitch….vilifying a successful writer – simply because he wasn’t my cup of tea — I mean what right do I have to judge?
Until I went on his website and read the helpfully entitled FAQs, where Sparks draws a very thin line between what he terms romance novels and what his stories are: Lurrve stories.
Apparently Love stories are NOT romance stories because they must must use universal characters and settings.
‘Romance novels are not bound by this requirement and characters can be rich, famous, or people who lived centuries ago, and the settings can be exotic. Love stories can differ in theme, romance novels have a general theme—”the taming of a man.” And finally, romance novels usually have happy endings while love stories are not bound by this requirement. Love stories usually end tragically or, at best, on a bittersweet note.’
Well – I also checked out what the Collins Dictionary thought the definition of a love story was:
‘a story whose central interest is a love relationship’
Which, oddly enough sounds suspiciously like Romance. Sure I know there are differences, Romances typically have a HEA or a HFN, etc – but really, all I hear when I read that, is a guy that is so desperate to not be known a Romance Writer, he has invented a different section for himself.
Well Mr Sparks, you clearly haven’t visited the books section in the Kmart in my town – cos, between yourself and Nora Roberts, you take the whole damn romance section (barring the half dozen Harlequins they’ve managed to squeeze in around you.
Also – he compared himself to Hemmingway – and that shit just ain’t right. That would be like like McDonald’s comparing themselves Auguste Escoffier, because, you know – they both served food.
And finally, when asked what his favourite story of youth? He cited HIS OWN NOVEL.
(*throws book against the wall*)
And that ladies and gentlepeople, is why I can not ever venture down a Nicholas Sparks-lit trail ever again. Because his writing feels smug, self-aggrandising and oh-so-pleased with its self – and I can sense the smarm & manipulation trailing through the stories, gilding the fore-edge and haunting the end paper… It’s THERE, like that awkward stalker from the prologue – just waiting to pop back in when you least expect it.
97 million people may not care.
But I do.
Valancy – wishing there was something violent you could do to e-books you hated. The gentle swish as it’s deleted from your e-reader assuages exactly NOTHING!
Header Image: Their First Quarrel, Charles Dana Gibson, 1914