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A Potential Five Star Film But Very Disappointing Novel
on May 27, 2003
Despite the eight major revisions discussed in the Author's Note at the end of this novel, the final version still doesn't work for me. The final revision should have been to turn it into a film script. Due to differences in the nature of print as compared with film media, I think that the key elements of this story could be an excellent movie (perhaps that is the eventual intention).
The storyline is very straightforward: Julie Barenson's best friend and husband Jim died of cancer when she was only twenty five years old, and four years later when the novel begins she is only beginning to truly deal with the grief which overwhelmed her. She has decided to stay in Swansboro, N.C., which is where Jim found her a job and they later married after he met her as a lost young woman on her own. While her presence in Swansboro is a painful reminder of how Jim's premature death cut short their time together, the town also provides the support of their friends and the comfort of her memories. Furthermore, she feels safe there, protected both by Jim's promise that he would always look down as her guardian angel and also by her constant companion Singer, the Great Dane who was delivered as a Christmas Eve gift from Jim exactly forty days after his death. This aspect of the plot is similar to other books by the author that examine the relationship betwen grief and love, but he chose to also make the book "a thriller' (this is his word for that aspect of the plot). Julie is at the point in her life that she has started dating again , but a meaningful romantic relationship still seems to be impossible given her emotional state combined with the paucity of potential candidates in such a small town. However, when Richard Franklin, a consulting engineer on temporary assignment, asks her for a date, Julie enjoys herself tremendously and feels an instant affinity towards him. This soon creates tension between Julie and Mike Harris, Jim's best friend who has been Julie and Singer's usual companion since Jim's death. While Julie and Mike have been hesitant to become involved romantically, all their friends believe that they would be the perfect couple.
The story is told from the multiple viewpoints of these three characters in a fairly effective manner; the downside of this technique is that the reader's knowledge is much greater than any of the participants. When complications from the relationship turn jealousy into something much more sinister, we don't the outcome but we sure know who we hope wins. In addition, the minor characters, several of whom have crucial roles, are very poorly developed and in some case charicatures of small town America. This is especially true of the two police officers drawn into the situation as disturbing incidents begin to occur and the violence escalates. Pete Gandy is portrayed as a typical MCP cop and in contrast his trainee associate Jennifer Romanelli seems to possess unfailing instincts at every turn. The best character by far is Singer, whose humanness will be immediately recognized by all Great Dane lovers.
My main complaint is that the attempt to meld the two genres did not succeed. Almost immediately it becomes obvious that one of the characters is evil and the resulting tension is intense as the reader waits for the story to develop. Yet the book proceeds at an incredibly slow pace as the details of all the various relationships are leisurely described (this part of the book is much like some of the author's other work, which is fine for descriptive tales of love and heartbreak where the details add to the mood of the story, but not for thrillers) I could only read a few chapters at a time and almost just skipped ahead to see how it ended. Then, slightly more than halfway through it turns into a typical thriller and proceeds at breakneck pace, almost nonstop action with litle further character development. While this would have saved the story if there had been unexpected developments in the plot, the conclusion was as close to predictable as you can get given the nature of Nicholas Sparks' previousstories.
While I recognize that a negative review may earn me some unhelpful votes from the author's most loyal devotees (my wife thinks that I am too harsh and that the book deserves four stars), writing this review reinforced my convictions that this is too trite and straightforward for a real thriller. While it works as a love story, I don't enjoy tension filled ones with such bittersweet endings. Thus, I recommend that if you are interested in a story by Nicholas Sparks about grief and the healing power of love you should instead read the wonderful NIGHTS IN RODANTHE. If you want a real mystery thriller with a subplot involving the nature of perserverance, love and potential redemption, then instead read LOST LIGHT by Michael Connelly.