Nicholas Sparks said in one of his first interviews, after his debut novel THE NOTEBOOK far exceeded the minimal sales it was originally expected to make, that he wrote "easy-to-read" romances destined for as large a reading contingent as possible. Surely A BEND IN THE ROAD, his latest, will not disappoint his legions of fans. But if Sparks was hoping to gain some ground in the world of literary fiction, he needs to try harder.
Miles's wife is dead --- his blessed, perfect, All-American PTA mom of a wife --- hit-and-run down while jogging at dusk one fateful night. The circumstances surrounding her death are still suspect, and Miles is trying to figure this out while also attempting to maintain as normal an existence as possible for his young son, the lovable Jonah. Jonah, however, has not taken his mother's demise lightly and is doing very poorly in school. Enter Sarah Andrews, the lovely single teacher, who offers to help Jonah academically and, eventually, help Miles sexually and emotionally. Miles and Sarah are deeply in love (isn't everybody in a Nicholas Sparks book?) yet their future together may be torn asunder by an evil secret. Will love conquer all? You won't find out until the last line of the book...
Or, if you're me, you will have figured out this plot as soon as these two lovebirds meet. Clearly, there is supposed to be a murder mystery underlying this tale of love after (someone else's) death, but it was so obvious, so much something I have seen on "Days of Our Lives" a million times, that what little interesting story there was here was ruined for me by Sparks's hackneyed plotting. The clues are so obvious that this could have been a Where's Waldo? picture with more text than usual. Although I am not a fan of the genre, I am fascinated by people who can write such lowest-common-denominator stories and end up rich and famous for them, hobnobbing with Kevin Costner and filling their book thank-you page with numerous references to agents of Hollywood and Madison Avenue. I'm not jealous, exactly --- I could never do what Sparks has done here. A twice-told tale of love the second time around is no stranger to the bestseller list, nor are characters as homogenous as Missy, the dead mom, or Jonah, the good-but-troubled kid. This kind of All-American romance now lives on bookshelves the way it used to live only on "Father Knows Best."
Sparks has a talent for doing what he does --- but it is too bad that he doesn't try broadening his rather perfunctory storytelling tone, digging deeper instead of just on the surface. He has also stated that he wanted to reinvent the genre of the romance, but he has done little but embrace its traditional formats and make Hollywood agents' bank accounts a lot more rich.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on April 1, 2005
A Bend in the Road