The Best of Me

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Book Review: The Best of Me
Author: Nicholas Sparks
Publishing date: July 2, 2012
Publisher: Hachette Illustrated
Price: RM31.90

AFTER cashing in on Hollywood romantic flicks that were based on his previous books — starting from Message in a Bottle (1999) to A Walk to Remember (2002) and 2004’s The Notebook, it’s understandable that Nicholas Sparks has now become reluctant to stray from his formulaic storytelling. For good reason since it has brought him success in the form of sappy Hollywood chick flicks starring the prettiest actors that the industry can muster; Robin Wright Penn, Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling and now, James Marsden.

His novels have however, become so formulaic (somewhat reminiscent of Dan Brown’s writing) that it’s become a matter of guessing which character dies in the end, as opposed to the reader trying to figure out how the story is going to pan out.

The Best of Me follows Dawson Cole and Amanda Collier; long-lost lovers who had a short, unforgettable relationship as teenagers, separated by circumstances owing to their highly differing backgrounds. Dawson came from a family riddled with alcoholic, abusive drunks who prided themselves in breaking the law, while Amanda came from a family whose Christian values, reputation and societal standing mattered more than anything else.

Despite having lost touch for decades, destiny brings them back together on a fateful trip both take to pay their last respects to Tuck, who owned a garage where Dawson used to work at — the place where the couple would spend most of their time.

A few odd things that keep reappearing in this book: the “guardian angel” (a dark man who’s always waving) who always makes an appearance whenever Dawson is in trouble, and a bunch of old letters left by Tuck. This is all explained in the end, although not very adequately or convincingly, which leaves readers wondering if they’d just read 300 pages in vain.

Amanda and Dawson are Sparks’ run-of-the-mill characters, just minimally different enough from the characters from his other novels but not nearly novel enough to really keep the reader intrigued. We’ve all met his protagonists before: quiet, brutish man who’s actually a softie that’s broken inside, and that is exactly what Dawson is.

The Best of Me is told from points of view of the multiple different characters in the novel. Although this starts off well because it is a rather clever way of conveying the gist of the characters’ thoughts and histories to the reader, it quickly becomes highly confusing in the later chapters when the story is picking up its pace.

The point of view jumps around so often that it sometimes takes a minute or two for readers to pick up their bearings and figure out who exactly is narrating. This makes the reading experience choppy as opposed to fluid; perhaps it would have been more effective for Sparks to stick with just one or two characters instead of changing POVs every few paragraphs.

As we’ve all come to expect from Sparks, there is very, very rarely a happy ending and The Best of Me is no different; but while he is usually apt at somehow plotting his endings beautifully anyway, he kind of fails this time. The ending of this novel feels forced and contrived ­— somewhat meaningless, and that takes away the satisfaction that one usually gets from reading a Nicholas Sparks novel.

When Noah and Allie die in The Notebook, we feel a sense of completion — two souls who’ve lived half a lifetime together have finally reached the end of their destinations, and slip away hand in hand into the afterlife, but the end of The Best of Me leaves very much to be desired indeed. One cannot help but think that Sparks has become too caught up in his favourite romance formula that he has decided to stick with his tried-and-true technique that has garnered him so many die-hard fans in Hollywood.

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 23, 2014.