Ever since the publication of his beloved novel THE NOTEBOOK, Nicholas Sparks has been known as an author who writes earnestly but refreshingly about relationships --- especially romantic ones. His books are rarely saccharine and often quite complex, exploring not only the charm and excitement of new love, but also the changes and challenges that come with long-term relationships. In his new novel, THE LONGEST RIDE, Sparks includes both of these perspectives, telling the stories of two couples whose disparate stories may be closer than readers might initially expect.
The book opens with Ira Levinson, a 91-year-old man, trapped in his car following an accident. He's cold and unable to move, and snow is falling hard outside. He doesn't have a way to notify anyone that he needs help, so instead he keeps himself busy (and keeps panic at bay) by remembering key scenes from his life with his wife, Ruth. Even though Ruth has been dead for years, her voice keeps Ira company, just as it had for the many decades of their marriage.
"Readers will keep guessing how the two stories will intersect --- and Sparks provides some surprising twists right up until the very end."
The two met in 1939 in Greensboro, North Carolina, where Ruth and her family had fled in the buildup to World War II and Hitler's seizure of Austria, leaving behind dozens of friends and relatives in Vienna. Ira and Ruth's wartime romance, like many others, seems both fragile and intense, as if the two of them already felt, even as young people, that their time together would be too short.
Ira's recollections --- spurred by his imaginary conversations with his late wife --- alternate in Sparks's novel with the story of another young couple on the verge of falling in love. This couple, however, is more contemporary (taking place just a few months before the snowstorm in which we meet Ira), and their story --- on the surface, anyway --- couldn't be more unlike Ira and Ruth's.
Sophia is a student at Wake Forest --- and throwing herself into her schoolwork to make up for the fact that she's nursing a broken heart. She's the one who ended things with her old boyfriend, but that doesn't make it easier. So when her roommate invites her to attend a nearby rodeo, Sophia goes along reluctantly at best. But there, during a chance encounter at a nearby bar, she meets Luke, a cowboy who couldn't be less like Brian, her ex. The two of them are immediately attracted to one another, but will the fact that they come from vastly different worlds --- and have vastly different goals --- result in genuine love, or just a fling to see how the other half lives?
These parallel love stories --- told in alternating chapters or sets of chapters --- are each rich in their own right, but together, they tell a broader and more complicated tale of love's growth and evolution over time. Readers will keep guessing how the two stories will intersect --- and Sparks provides some surprising twists right up until the very end. His legion of fans will not be disappointed by this latest novel, full of reflections about art, life, courage and, of course, love.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 20, 2013
The Longest Ride