We can nod at the obvious that The Choice is typical Nicholas Sparks; faithful readers are not likely to be disappointed. Unless, of course, they actuWe can nod at the obvious that The Choice is typical Nicholas Sparks; faithful readers are not likely to be disappointed. Unless, of course, they actually think about it too much. To be fair, Sparks has declared his interest is writing best-sellers, not something else, and in today’s world that means formulaic and predictable. Again, the readers he wants to please are probably not going to be disappointed with The Choice. At the level of lowest resolution, there isn’t much more to be said. If we look a little closer, however, some cracks have begun to appear, almost as though he has tired of repeating the same formulae; or, having trouble in making new plots fit the very very profitable formula. The Choice starts of with a typical boy-meets-girl set up; Gabby moves to a Florida to be close to her boyfriend Kevin. And (wouldn’t you know it), the oh-so-eligible Travis lives next door. You already see the choice, right? Well, wait till you get to Part II and that isn’t the choice at all. Not that it isn’t a choice, but it’s not the one in the book. As I’ve tried to be follow Nicholas Sparks, after all he was, at my last checking, the third best-selling author in the world, the formula is pretty clear: (1) a timely subject--livings wills, (2) a maudlin writing style--what writers call ‘voice’, (3) a male character outwardly very masculine, but who wants a relationship like women wish they did, (4) Quick bonding, one principles conflicted about it. but permanent once achieved --contretemps keep the plot moving, not seven-year itches. (5) an uncomplicated plot that can be told simply and gushingly. This keeps the book relatively short, readable in two or three sittings. (5) No nastiness like cursing (you won’t be embarrassed to recommend it to your friends, and sex is just explicit enough that we know what’s happening (though Sparks does subscribe to the modern myth that chastity is not preferable to promiscuity). The crack in this edifice is that the choice of The Choice doesn’t come until Part II. It is as though Sparks changed his mind about the book after Part 1, which was a fairly humdrum romance with little action and almost no plot. It appears Sparks realized he would have to do something to pull it out, and didn’t want to go back and rewrite the whole damn thing. Still, Sparks’ readers will be happy. So will his publisher....more
What makes a happy marriage? Rafael Yglesias, prodigy novelist--he published his first novel at 16--and screenwriter, turns his considerable talent toWhat makes a happy marriage? Rafael Yglesias, prodigy novelist--he published his first novel at 16--and screenwriter, turns his considerable talent to answering that question in his new book, entitled appropriately enough, A Happy Marriage. It is no spoiler to say the answer turns out far too complex for a simple review like this one. Nor is the conclusion that along the paths happy marriages take unhappiness and grief are strewn. The book never explicitly says so, but happily married couples already knew it and the book confirms it.
It is impossible to know anything about Yglesias without realizing how heavily autobiographical is A Happy Marriage. All the major touchstones of his real life marriage to Margaret Joskow are mirrored in the fictional characters, Enrique Sabas and Margaret Cohen: their courtship, their ups and downs, even a few not too salacious scenes from their sex life. We can guess he’s probably taken liberties with details; we don’t which.
If you find it hard to imagine a book with a name like A Happy Marriage having enough conflict to hold a modern reader’s attention, I predict a pleasant surprise because it is riveting. At least it was for me, even though by the second chapter I knew the inevitable end. Yglesias first takes us to Enrique and Margaret’s original meeting, next, to knowledge of the cancer that eats away at her body and spirit, all 21 chapters alternating symmetrically between their lifetime together and the final few weeks they have left. In Yglesias’ expert hands, it pulls you breakneck through the novel as you plunge ahead insistently to see what will happen.
One other aspect needs mentioning, for although a novel, it should be read by couples facing cancer. Yglesias’ depiction of the agonizing sense of helplessness a person faces seeing a beloved life partner slowly die, the inability to communicate with friends addled by their embarrassed squeamishness at his plight, the jarring perception of how terminal illness cruelly and sweetly brings you closer, rings painfully true to this reviewer. The cosmopolitan, Jewish intellectual that is Enrique Sabas could not be more culturally distant from this Texas Baptist who also lost had a cherished spouse to cancer. Yet, that his crystalline emotions were my own allowed me the modicum of comfort their universality makes possible.