The Notebook

A Walk to Remember
by Nicholas Sparks
(Warner, $19.95, G) ISBN 0-446-52553-7
For some unfathomable reason, A Walk to Remember is perched near the top of the bestseller lists. After reading this unremarkable, sketchy 200-page collection of clichés, I feel a deep disappointment regarding the reading taste of the American public. My goodness, people, there are hundreds of books by outstanding authors out there that are being ignored in favor of this mediocrity! Don't you want to read something with a little more originality, style and complexity?

The plot, such as it is, is your basic bad boy/good girl romance, combined with a Love Story-type tearjerker. The story takes place forty years ago in a small North Carolina town. Landon Carter is the 17-year-old aimless scion of a local Congressman. Because his father is never home, he has plenty of opportunity to sneak out at night and engage in various forms of petty mischief with his buddies, namely eating peanuts in the cemetery and soaping car windows. At the start of his senior year, he is faced with the potential humiliation of not having a date for the Homecoming Dance. Out of desperation, he approaches Jamie Sullivan.

The daughter of a Baptist minister, Jamie is a paragon of virtue. She carries her beloved Bible with her everywhere and spends most of her free time volunteering at the local orphanage. She agrees to go with Landon to the dance but then asks a favor in return. Each Christmas, the high school seniors perform a play written by her father entitled The Christmas Angel. Of course Jamie will play the part of the angel this year, but she wants Landon to play the lead male role. Although Landon is more than a little embarrassed to be seen with this goody-goody, he gradually learns to appreciate her special inner beauty. But Jamie has a secret that will make Landon's growing love for her extremely bittersweet.

Several years ago, Nicholas Sparks' debut novel, The Notebook, earned a surprise 4-heart rating from me. In my review, I noted that he wasn't a particularly skilled author; however, a twist in the plot tugged at my heartstrings in a surprisingly effective way. Two novels later, I stand by my original opinion of Sparks' writing: it's serviceable but unremarkable. And this time, his plot has nothing new to offer. It is such a calculated tear-jerker (movie rights have already been optioned, by the way) that the emotions remain uninvolved. Landon's first-person narrative is slightly amusing in the beginning as he describes his baffled response to Jamie, but the heroine isn't a character, she's an icon. She is so perfect, even when facing a mortal crisis, that it's impossible to identify with her or feel anything for her.

At 240 pages of large-print text, the entire novel can be read in approximately 90 minutes, which makes it a waste of $20. The ending is abrupt, leaving the reader with nothing but a vague curiosity to know about Landon's fate in the 40 years between the events in the novel and the bracketing modern-day prologue and epilogue.

I feel a little guilty criticizing A Walk to Remember -- it's so saccharine that panning it feels like I've just broken my mother's Precious Moments figurine collection. But when I think of all of the wonderful books I've read in the past year that are going unheralded, and then think of the millions of dollars that Nicholas Sparks must be realizing from the screenplay rights, I am more than a little mad. The prologue of the novel states: "First you will smile, and then you will cry -- don't say you haven't been warned." The only warning I offer potential readers is this: unless you felt that Love Story was the outstanding novel of the 1970s, don't waste your money on this trifle.

--Susan Scribner

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