'The Best of Me': More of what makes Sparks successful

From the book jacket
From the book jacket
Posted: October 15, 2011

Nicholas Sparks' latest novel, The Best of Me, has all the flashes of a Sparks book: small-town life; love and its regrets; wrenching plot twists; agonizing choices. Plus a ghost. Or is it a ghost?

"I don't want to be the kind of writer who writes the same exact story without changing anything," says Sparks, who reads from his work at the University of Pennsylvania Bookstore from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday. "I'm always asking myself, 'How can I make it new and interesting?' "

Enough readers have found his stories new and interesting to give him a very successful career as a writer, with 16 novels and multiple New York Times best-sellers. Many fans know him best by the six popular movies (with three more in production) made from his books, including Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, and Nights in Rodanthe.

The Best of Me recounts the re-meeting of two teen lovers, Amanda and Dawson, years later at a high school reunion in a small Southern town. Broken up by sharp-eyed parents, and separated by class, the two take different routes in life. But Sparks doesn't let this almost unbearably romantic premise run away with the book. Sure, the question will be "Is there such a thing as true love?" - but the answer will be anything but easy.

And that may be what separates a Sparks book from other romancers. It's about love, but it's often also about loss. Touching on themes such as cancer, belief, conscience, guilt, and the obstacles to happiness, a Sparks novel, in his words, "may begin as a teen love story, as this one does, but it develops into a story for folks who are asking 'what if?' in their 40s." Several Sparks books buck mere fantasy by ending sadly - because "that's often part of it."

As strong as rekindled love is between the two, another couple - Amanda and her present husband, Frank - are just as beckoning, having held on through disappointment, alcoholism, and the death of a child.

"It would have been easy to make Frank all bad," says Sparks, disarmingly straightforward when he talks about novel-writing. "But the world is never that black and white. If you live with someone, you learn to live with their imperfections. You ask: 'What am I willing to put up with? And if I don't put up with it, what are the consequences?' "

Sparks has shown a knack for creating books that transfer well to film. The Best of Me was sold to Warner Bros. even before it was written. The Lucky One is to appear early in 2012, and yet another movie, Safe Haven, is in production.

Why the success? "The purpose of my genre, if it has a purpose at all, is not to create a romantic fantasy," Sparks says. "What I attempt to do is to move the reader through all the emotions of life. You're left with a story that lingers in the memory for a long time. That may be why we've had success in the movies."


Contact staff writer John Timpane at 215-854-4406, jt@phillynews.com, or @jtimpane on Twitter.

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