Nights In Rodanthe
There’s a certain strain of book that has become prevalent in recent years, written by male authors but targeted at the yearning hearts of middle aged women. It’s like a more literary romance novel, with the heroine a successful professional in her own right needing tenderness instead of rescue: a validation of the idea that a woman can have it all, and be strong, smart, successful, -and- sexy.
Nicholas Sparks’ novel -Nights in Rodanthe-, now in paperback, offers a smartened-up variation of this formula. The heroine is middle aged, yes, but she’s not a professional at anything but getting through life. Left behind by her husband, who bolts off in pursuit of a younger woman, and effectively in sole custody of their three children, Adrienne has plenty enough on her plate. Add in her beloved father, whose health is failing and whose care is expensive, and Adrienne hasn’t got time for romance or foolish notions of keeping hold of her youth. In her mid-forties, heartbroken and saddled with worry, Adrienne is, in her own eyes at least, scarcely what a man is likely to be looking for.
Enter Paul. In his fifties, wealthy, acclaimed as a surgeon, and yet in the midst of a life-changing meltdown, Paul has lost everything he didn’t know he cared about -- his wife, his son, and a patient who died despite receiving flawlessly competent care. The rest, the things in his life that he told himself he was working for -- house, private practice, money -- he’s willing to part with or put on hold until he has a chance to work through the mystery of where everything went wrong. Summoned to the seaside town of Rodanthe, North Carolina, by the husband of his dead patient, Paul finds himself coming into contact with Adrienne, who is watching over a bed and breakfast inn for a weekend while the proprietor is away. A hurricane blowing in guarantees romantically inclement weather, but more than that, the storm mirrors Paul’s churning feelings of loss and Adrienne’s sublimated anxieties of growing old alone. The two electrify one another from the first moment, but it takes time for them to let down their guards and grow close. Sparks tells the story in fits and starts, allowing the characters room and time to get comfortable with one another, and with themselves, and the author uses the between-times to reveal episodes from their backgrounds.
Because most of the story is told in flashback from 14 years later, Sparks also finds occasions to draw us forward in Adrienne’s life, when she’s sixty years old and trying to help her grieving daughter come to grips. Always gifted with a tranquil wisdom, Adrienne is able to draw upon her few nights in Rodanthe with Paul to teach her daughter a few lovingly imparted lessons about the place love should have in life, and how to move past it when the time comes.
If this mix of flashback, romance, and love rising to life’s challenges sounds like Hollywood fodder, well, you’re close; Sparks wrote the novel on which the movie -The Notebook- is based. (Ready for more? At the end of -Nights in Rodanthe- there’s a preview chapter of his new novel -The Wedding- where there’s another sick parent, another middle aged couple, another unraveling marriage, and who knows? Maybe more flashbacks, too.) Though Sparks is not a great prose stylist, he does know how to tell a sotry -- even one that in broad sketches sounds hoary and overdone -- and the book flashes by with a penetrating sense of atmosphere. The author’s strongest suite is characterization; he knows exactly how to draw a personality in just a few lines of description, and how to pull tides of feeling onto the page even when his characters aren’t saying much. (He also knows how to dye a scene deep purple, but he doesn’t do it often.)
Still, if you’re not part of Sparks’ target demographic, you might emerge from -Nights in Rodanthe- much the same as from a chick-flick matinee: blinking at the sudden change of light and wondering whether the guy also writes books for men. He clearly knows how to do what he’s doing here -- so can he do something besides drive women into frenzies?
by Nicholas Sparks
Publisher: Warner Books. Price: $12.00 Publication Date: July 21, 2004. Pages: 240. ISBN 0-446-69179-8