In high school, I ravaged any and every Nicholas Sparks novel I could lay my voracious hands on. My favorite was “The Notebook” until “The Choice” emerged as a serious contender. I was drawn to the flawed yet lovable characters, the almost believable real-life situations and the gamble of whether or not the ending would leave me grinning moronically at the undeniable existence of never-ending love or doubled over dry heaving because I couldn’t possibly squeeze out one more agonizing tear. As S.E. Hinton would say “that was then, this is now.”
“Safe Haven” is my first Sparks endeavor in years, and I have to say I’m slightly disappointed. As always, my eyes danced rhythmically over the writing, causing my eager fingers to turn 100 pages without even realizing, and the characters’ histories are deeper than any of Sparks’ other background visits I can think of. The disappointment rears its dubious head in the actual plot of the novel.
Spoiler alert: Skip this paragraph if you want to be completely and “pleasantly” surprised by inane violence. The introductory blurb explains that Katie, the female protagonist, is running from something, but doesn’t elaborate. That something she is running from is, in fact, an abusive pus-filled castigator named Kevin who does not like his women independent and beats them for grocery shopping.
Had I known the premise of the novel beforehand, I probably would have skipped this particular romance and jogged on to another of Sparky’s stories. Add this to the child-like, commandment-repeating mind of Kevin and I just can’t take it. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not Katie’s fault she chose a frog from the prince swamp, and it’s certainly not her fault her misfortune never wormed its way into my heart. I blame the blurbist for not giving me a heads up.
Alex, the male protagonist, is a prince of a different color. He’s a 30-something widower with prematurely gray hair and two flawless kids, and on a swoon scale of one to 10, Alex is an 11. His disposition is so even, and he has the uncanny ability to say the right thing at the right time. Even his children admit he doesn’t get mad. Alex couldn’t be more storybook if he came with washboard abs and a pot of gold. Come to think of it, as ex-military he probably does have washboard abs. Twelve on the swoon scale.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t briefly mention Jo, Katie’s meddlesome but deeply caring neighbor. A fast friend with a penchant for black coffee, she acts as the catalyst for Alex and Katie’s budding romance. Leaning toward overbearing, she pokes, prods and pinches Katie to give the poor, perfect guy a chance. One may wonder what the yenta could gain from this matchmaking.
Any tenderoni who has ever picked up a Sparks novel knows his stories always contain an unexpected twist that typically hits you like a bipolar locomotive. It’s like reading a Jodi Picoult book and thinking, “I’ve finally figured it out.” No, you haven’t.
Now, I won’t give it away, but know it was a relatively expected unexpected twist, at least to me. I have friends who have read these same pages and never saw it coming. I guess it just depends on how intuitive you are, or maybe how many mushy, gushy, happy, sappy stories a person has read in his or her lifetime. I’ve read more than one and less than a million.
I’ll put it this way: “Safe Haven” was a quick, enjoyable read, but it didn’t move me an inch. If Nicholas Sparks, the “Lord of Lost Love,” can’t manage to cause a single tear, I feel cheated. I’m crossing my fingers the February release of the theatrical version, starring heartthrob Josh Duhamel and “Dancing with the Stars”
champion Julianne Hough, will break the dry spell.
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