Nicholas Sparks has a huge following of people who are perfectly happy with his books and how they work. They are “timeless romance” stories, with ups and downs and mushy-gushy lines that no real life man would ever think to say. And people are fine with that. Yes, these books are often cheesy and unrealistic, but it’s a fantasy story where your emotions are toyed with and you’re left feeling weepy and satisfied. Personally, I will read these books between bigger, deeper books as a break for my brain. They have a purpose, and they serve it well.
“Love is like the wind, you can’t see it but you can feel it.”
Unfortunately the movie industry has taken almost a dozen books by Nicholas Sparks and over-dramatized stories that were already popular and nicely balanced. Stories with ambiguous endings are tied up neatly. Realistic touches are either omitted entirely, or exaggerated. It’s like they assume that audiences won’t believe the book version of events because they’re not fantastic enough, so that have to make it a little more extreme to hook people.
A classic example of a Nicholas Sparks’ adaptation is “The Notebook,” and I’m sure pretty much everyone has seen the movie. A sweet story of a young couple who are total opposites but love each other anyway. Tragic subplot of them as an older couple, she has Alzheimer’s and he reads to her every day until they die together. But that’s not how it really happened. Book-Noah and Book-Allie never fight; they are the epitome of the perfect couple. They’re the most refreshing, summer-lovin’ pair who spend lots of time together during that one summer. They end the summer with some passionate virginity-taking, and then peacefully go their separate ways. Yes. Peacefully. No huge fight, no driving away angry. Book-Noah writes to Allie one letter per month for a year. Yes. Twelve letters. Not three-hundred and sixty-five. Twelve.
These are just the beginning examples of unnecessary exaggeration from Hollywood. Twelve letters after a great summer together, reminding Allie that Noah still loves her is super sweet and romantic. The ending of the book, too, gets overdone in the movie. That whole “dying peacefully in each others arms simultaneously” thing? Yeah, that doesn’t happen. They spend a night together with perfect clarity, where Allie remembers Noah and they’re able to make love and spend (probably) their last night together. “Last night” as in her disease has progressed to where it’s unlikely she’ll recognize him again.
Nicholas Sparks does this a lot, leaving the endings open and letting his readers imagine what happened. It may frustrate people, but I think it’s important because these are meant to be at least somewhat realistic and no one’s story stops just after guy gets girl or one of them dies. Life goes on. Another adaptation where they used this technique was in “A Walk to Remember.” Another 90’s classic that most people have seen by now. The bucket list Jamie (Mandy Moore) had that so many people borrow items from (“I want to be in two places at once!”) had only one thing on it in the book: Jamie wanted to get married. That’s a realistic request from someone who expects to die way too soon. It’s no secret that at the end of the movie Jamie dies, and Landon (Shane West) is left alone, sad, but a completely changed person because of her. Again, in the book it’s not clear if she dies. Part of this is because Sparks based Jamie’s character on his sister, who was also sick and wanted to leave his readers with a sense of hope. On his website he says:
“As to whether she actually lived or died, it’s ambiguous and purposely meant to be that way. If you wanted Jamie to live, she lived. If you knew that Jamie would die, she died. As for me, I thought there was a good chance that Jamie lived. At least, I hoped so.”
This is a great literary technique. Letting readers imagine what happened after the narration ends, utilize their imagination, and let the book dwell in someone’s mind. Great books are the ones that stick with you, even through the frustratingly vague endings.
These adaptations also seem to have a habit of taking the evil book characters and making them more understandable. In “The Lucky One,” with the steamy Zac Efron as Logan and the lovely Taylor Schilling as Beth, everyone’s characters have been toned down to one extreme or the other. Movie-Logan barely speaks because of his PTSD and quietly observes things until it’s necessary for him to step in. Book-Logan catches Keith (Beth’s ex) spying on nude college students sunbathing and slashes his tires. He also threatens him a couple times, and is actually quite talkative and animated (and there’s no PTSD mentioned). Keith is a much darker character in the book. In the movie, he’s hard on Ben and controlling of Beth but he loves his kid and that’s just fine and dandy. In the book, his son dreads visiting him because he’s forced to do chores that his dad doesn’t feel like doing. He forces Ben to play catch and throws the ball hard enough to hurt him.
A sadly left out character of “The Lucky One” is Zeus. Logan’s dog is faithful and creates a bond with Ben before Logan even does. He’s mentioned frequently and fondly, and it’s Zeus that saves Ben from the river while Keith and Logan are struggling. The treehouse does fall at the end of the book, but that’s not what kills Keith. It’s unclear how he really dies (because being ambiguous is a good tactic that Sparks uses!) and all we really know is Logan tried to help him but Keith’s struggling was essentially drowning Logan. There’s tons of possibilities there! Maybe Logan let Keith drown. Maybe it was an accident and Logan really tried to save him. Sparks leaves this open for interpretation too.
It’s unfortunate that people don’t seem to see the value of these steamy books without trying to make them a little more extreme and more visually exciting. I understand that there is something lost in the translation when we don’t hear a character’s thoughts, but the dramatic tension in the book is clear without them and the people who love these books would love them as they are. These books are an escape; they’re a fantasy of romance and true love and that should be more than enough stimulation!