Friday, March 29, 2013

What is a Safe Haven?

Before I get crucified by any of Nicholas Sparks's die hard fans, I have to up front admit that in my opinion he had his one shot in The Notebook. That was an amazing book which turned into a very good movie (with the help of the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, of course) and it opened the door for him. Many doors, actually. Dubbed often as the most romantic movie of modern times, The Notebook paved the way for him to get more movies made, more books published and (at least in my opinion) all of those are in pursuit of what The Notebook was. So far? Not very successful.
I was drawn to this story in particular because I thought this was Sparks's opportunity to tap into another serious issue. He tends to be walking this thin line between wanting to be Jodi Picoult and trying to be Jane Austen (set in modern era). Okay, okay, maybe I'm being a little harsh. But I'm a very difficult audience for romance novels so when someone said he's like Bryan Adams in the literary world (i.e. he *really* understands women), I set my goal to discover this bryanadamsness inside him. So I read more than just The Notebook. In fact, I read Dear John (and rolled my eyes and just barely finished the book), The Choice (and rolled my eyes at the end), The Lucky One (and liked the main character), The Best Of Me (and rolled my eyes a little more at the huge coincidence in the end which I smelled from a far and was almost praying for it not to come, especially since the title is actually a title of a Bryan Adams song!) and lastly I dived into Safe Haven. And I am yet to uncover this greatness that he apparently has inside him. Yes, I should probably have given up. But I have a friend who swears by him and each and every time she persuades me this will be a very good book. And like I said, this topic seemed to hit the nerve with me so I gave it a go.
This was too good to pass up. A comparison of Sparks' movie posters.
Nicholas Sparks can write. There is no question. He knows how to roll the sentences and spin the story. His yarn is really really good. What's lacking is the gist of the story. That little extra something. But then again, if romantic is what you're after, the surprises, twists and shocks are pretty limited, I guess. So Safe Haven is about this mysterious girl Katie who appears in a small town and draws the attention of a young widowed shop owner Alex (with two kids). He is interested in her and gently pursues her but she keeps him at bay, living on the outskirts of the small town and keeping very much to herself. She clearly has a secret and he is more than determined to find it out. Without much of a spoiler alert I can say that Katie had fled an abusive husband and hid from him in the small North Carolina (as always, fantastically romantic) town. *That's* what I was interested in. And I have to give Sparks credit where credit is due. The story of how Katie ran away from her husband was amazing. How she managed to slip from under his controlling ever-present gaze was very well described, beautifully planned and had absolutely no plot holes. I found myself applauding there. So while Katie is learning to trust Alex and is getting attached to his kids, you just know that the ex will come barging in from somewhere. His kind of men always find her kind of women once more. So that is where the plot thickens, right? Well my complain is about the ending. By now I should probably add "of course". So here's the "spoiler" if you will, although it's not really, cause in Sparks's books *****spoiler***** someone (almost) always dies. This time it's her ex husband. And when he dies, Katie weeps and mourns him. What the HELL?! What self-respecting woman who has enough strength to flee from the man who abused and hit her as often as he could possibly raise his hand, would cry when the bastard is finally stopped? So basically that one little bit spoiled it for me and pissed me off. Okay, this time Sparks justified it with how she wept for the man he was and she fell in love with and wept for the marriage that could have been etc. But by then I was already angry. 
Still I think after The Notebook this might be my favorite of his (if I can even pick favorites) - but for a few alterations. I didn't like Alex as much as I liked the former Marine Logan in The Lucky One but I liked how the story unfolded. Unlike what the movie shows, Katie never slept with Alex during the course of the book. There were no passionate jumps into his arms and wrapping her legs around his waist, the steamy nights and romantic mornings together. A bruised woman needs way more time than a week or two to get to that level of intimacy. Also Katie used to be a natural blonde and dyed her hair blonde to hide from her husband. In the movie it was vice versa. Maybe because Julianne Hough's eyebrows are so dark that she passes off for a former brunette. But it's common knowledge blonde hair is noticed faster, so why would Katie want to expose herself after she so meticulously planned her escape? The movie was directed by Lasse Hallström, who had directed a masterpiece or two before. Can't really say what went wrong here except that he had a very bad screenwriter and that Sparks was blindly agreeing to everything while he produced (?) the movie. How to ruin a good book? Make it into a movie and take out the best part about it - how the smart woman finally escaped her torturer. Let me give you a hint - she didn't stab him.
And of course if he had skipped Katie's "friend" Jo and the letter in the end (you actually gotta read it/see it to believe it, it's THAT far fetched), Sparks would maybe even earn 4 stars from me. But he fell short. Too much mushiness and obvious tearjerkers. And to show you how a good book on this subject should actually have been written... Stay tuned.

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