Nicholas Sparks is something of a guilty pleasure.
Yes, his stories are formulaic, with his oft-repeated method of parallel plots culminating in predictably syrupy-sweet conclusions, but, gosh darnit, it’s good old literary escapism, and Mr. Sparks does such writing better than most.
Ah, but what of his latest offering, Two By Two?
It took little more than the first few chapters to see Sparks was trying something a little different here, and I commend him for that. Perhaps his publisher squawked, wanting the same tried and true method that results in happy readers and another bestseller, but Sparks has the leverage to demand he be given the chance to have it his way, and Two By Two is an author attempting just that, or an author simply unhappy with the worded cage of his own making.
And therein we find the fault.
Longtime fans of Nicholas Sparks might be left wondering what they had just read. Is there romance?
Is there love lost, found, and/or lost again?
So, what then is the problem here?
The danger inherent in an author trying something different is that he or she risks alienating their regular readers, and, if the story isn’t up to snuff, failing to attract new readers. I fear Nicholas Sparks might have done just that with Two By Two.
The primary protagonist, Russel, is too weak, too inconsequential to the path his inaction has chosen. A nice guy? Sure. An interesting one? Not so much. Too much beta when what Sparks has long been noted for are troubled, yet well-intentions alpha characters – the very kind of men Sparks’ female readers find so attractive.
As for Vivian, she might be the most detestable character Sparks has yet created. He likely intended to make her unlikable, but she is so much so, it borders on parody.
Then there is London, the daughter of Russel and Vivian. Where he made Vivian so (unintentionally) comically negative, Sparks creates London as the oh-so-cute daughter prototype that again, it reads as being unbelievable. I feel for Sparks here. His character development came up short, and he’s good enough a writer to know it. I’ve been there. All of us who write long enough have. Sometimes the prose just devolves into a clunky, contradictory mess.
Two By Two is as clunky and contradictory as Nicholas Sparks has ever been.
Being it’s a Nicholas Sparks story, the Hollywood adaptation is likely already underway. Good luck to the screenplay writer who has to adapt this one for the Big Screen – no easy task.
I’m rooting for Sparks to come back from this one. Rumor is, he was under the proverbial publishing gun a bit, placed on a strict timeline that was the offshoot of a lucrative book deal that demands him to churn out product. Well, if true, Two By Two is the sad result of those working conditions.
Two By Two didn’t quite add up.
D.W. Ulsterman is a bestselling, award-winning author and socio-political commentator.
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