by Nadin Pyatnitsa
Eating chocolate in bed.
Watching cheesy soap operas.
Walking naked around your apartment when no one’s at home.
Wait, did I just say that??… Well, never mind. We all have small guilty pleasures we secretly indulge in.
For the longest time my guilty pleasure was reading the books written by one and only Nicholas Sparks. For the longest time they were not just decent but pretty good. Not only did I enjoy N.Sparks’s novelist skills and beautifully written characters, but the plots were actually original and not overused, with interesting twists and unexpected endings.
Who didn’t cry reading the end of A Walk To Remember? Whose chest wouldn’t tighten on the last pages of Dear John or Message In A Bottle? … Yours? You have no soul!
Anyway, this is what happened:
One morning Nicholas Sparks woke up and decided to be a writer.
He wrote a few books.
And then a few more. They weren’t too bad.
Some of them were turned into nice flicks. If you’re into that kind of thing. (I was)
And then N. Sparks got a call from Disney.
They wanted him to write a script that would be kind of A Walk To Remember, for Miley Cyrus…
So…. Mr. Sparks went on and wrote it, a script SPECIFICALLY for Miley Cyrus that was later turned into a book. Hell, he even let her choose her character’s name!
You see the problem here, right?
And then, 5 years later, I somehow ended up with The Longest Ride, N.Sparks’s latest novel.
Longest indeed! It took me a few days to finish it but it felt like weeks. And the worst thing is that I’m not to get this time of my life back. How not cool is that?
In the beginning of The Longest Ride we’re introduced to Ira Levinson, a ninety-something man dying in his car after he lost control of it in the snowfall and it ended up in the ditch. Trapped and suffering from multiple injuries, unseen from the main road and destined to die, Ira sees the image (a ghost?) of his dead wife Ruth, and through their conversation – that I assume happens mostly in his head – we learn the story of their lives.
Parallel to this plot, we meet a young student-soon-to-be-graduate Sophia. Dragged by her friend and roommate to a rodeo on the Friday night, Sophia meets a charming cowboy and bull rider Luke who’s fighting a bunch of demons of his own. Tormented by guilt and knowing that he is the reason his mother is about to lose their ranch, Luke needs to keep participating in rodeos despite the fact that any one of them could be his last. Man, bull riding can be dangerous!
Obviously, the stories are somehow connected but we remain in the dark until almost the end. Which I do give Mr. Sparks credit for.
All in all, however, the book was plain and flat. And this is why:
1. Well, first of all it was at least a hundred pages longer than necessary, thanks to constant repetitions. Now, I do get it that when people are in love, they feel all kinds of things. But do we really need to read about them on every other page? Do we need to know how much Luke missed Sophia or how much she loved him in every chapter? It took paragraphs, pages, and frankly, it was so sickeningly sweet and dragged so painfully I wanted to smack someone with this book. No kidding!
2. The characters were… perfect. As in, inhumanly perfect. As in, absolutely flawless. Which brings me to – how??? There was little room for any development and growth. They were like those wax figures or porcelain dolls you shouldn’t touch.
3. As cute as plot was, it felt absolutely not plausible, if impossible. It was too smooth, too easy. I wouldn’t say that it lacked conflict, per se. But it did lack the conflict that it would make it truly interesting. Every single issue the characters had was resolved easily and without a single bump on the road. Everyone was very nice and convenient and forgiving, and just… unrealistic.
4. My favorite character was, perhaps, Luke’s mother who we only met, like, twice, i.e. she wasn’t annoyingly overused. Or overly emotional. Or too unrealistic. She was badass!
5. Modern Languages major rant – Sophia, according to the book, was of Slovakian descent. Which was totally cool by me. What wasn’t cool was how easily people were guessing it just by looking at her. Being called Sophia Danko could’ve easily made her Czech, or Bulgarian, or Hungarian, or Croatian. Yet, as soon as she introduced herself, everyone instantly guessed that her parents came specifically from Slovakia. I don’t even know why it rubbed me the wrong way, but seriously??? It was almost as bad as fake accents in the movies when actors don’t speak the language they’re trying to weave into English.
6. While Luke and his mom kinda sorta had some issues with their ranch, Sophia didn’t have a distinct storyline at all. Moreover, we didn’t see the climax which was supposed to be Luke’s one-on-one with the bull he feared most. Instead, we get a quick recap about it about 7 chapters later. It’s cheating! Ya know, this whole “Show, don’t tell” is just as applicable to prose as to screenwriting.
4* for the idea
5* for attempt
2* for execution
-10* for giving up on his passion for writing and turning his books into “books written to be made into half ass lame films”.
So far, it’s safe to say that I’m keeping those 5 or 6 books by Sparks that I actually like and bid him goodbye.