R96. The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

Year Published: 2011
Pages: 292

Pairing: suburban stay-at-home mom and ex-con oil rig worker

First Sentence: For Dawson Cole, the hallucinations began after the explosion on the platform, on the day he should have died.
Climax: She could feel his desire as well, and with a movement that seemed almost preordained, she kissed him once more before leading him to the bedroom.

So listen, I decided that for the final five books of this half of the project, I'd return to my roots and review romnovs again. Part of that decision was based on the fact that I didn't want to lose my good excuse to try reading a Nicholas Sparks book. And now, here we are. The Best of Me is, as far as I know, not one of Sparks' most popular books, although of course there's a movie adaptation so it's obviously not unpopular either. Here's a trailer:

Dawson Cole is a member of his small town's crime family, but he's the black sheep of said family, i.e. he's not into crime. Amanda Collier is the beloved daughter of one of the town's rich families. Once Dawson is big enough to fight back against his father and cousins, Ted and Abee, he runs away from the Coles and spends the rest of his high school years living and working in the garage of a widower named Tuck. This is when he becomes Amanda's lab partner and the two of them fall in love and spend all of their free time together.

To no one's surprise, Amanda's parents are not supportive of this match, and they eventually give her an ultimatum: they'll withdraw their support for her to attend Duke University if she doesn't break up with Dawson. Amanda tells Dawson about this and thinks that the two of them can make it work, but Dawson knows what it's like to actually be poor, and breaks up with her.

That fall, Amanda goes to Duke and Dawson accidentally runs over the town doctor while the doctor is out jogging on the highway. Despite not being at fault due to swerving to avoid another vehicle, he pleads guilty and goes to jail for four years. When he gets out, he goes to work on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Fast forward twenty years, during which Dawson has worked on the oil rig and spent his days off working out, reading books, and literally nothing else besides hiring private investigators to give him updates on the doctor's family. He's continually sent them money, in secret, as well. Meanwhile, Amanda met her now-husband Frank at university. They've had four kids, one of whom was killed by cancer, after which Frank, a dentist, developed a bad case of alcoholism. Over the years, Amanda also developed a friendship with Tuck, the mechanic whose garage Dawson lived in in high school.

When Tuck dies, his lawyer summons both Amanda and Dawson back to their hometown to meet with him about Tuck's last wishes. Dawson is free because of a recent oil rig accident, during which he saw a ghost who appears several more times in the book. Amanda and Dawson meet up for the first time in 25 years and hit it off immediately, though fortunately she reprimands him for carrying a torch and spying on his victim's family.

Tuck's last wishes were for Amanda and Dawson to reconnect and also to tell them his own love story with his wife Clara, who he was devoted to. Unfortunately, seeing him back in town, Dawson's cousins Ted and Abee want to see him dead.

After spending a night together at Tuck and Clara's old cabin, during which Amanda doesn't exactly cheat on her husband but it's an academic distinction only, Amanda decides that she needs to go back to her family. Dawson wraps up some things in town and is driving away when he sees the ghost again. The ghost is the doctor that Dawson killed and he leads Dawson to a bar where Ted and Abee are beating up the doctor's son. Dawson intervenes and saves the doctor's son's life. His cousin Ted manages to fire one final shot in Dawson's direction...

Meanwhile on the way home Amanda gets a call that while designated driving her drunk husband home, her son got in a car accident. I thought for sure the husband would die but actually her son suffers multiple complications from his injuries and needs a heart transplant. A donor is miraculously found in time and after the successful transplant surgery, Amanda gets a call from Tuck's lawyer, at which point she finds out that Dawson was shot and killed.

Fast forward two more years. Frank is sober and he and Amanda are finally going to counselling. Also Dawson's heart was the donor to Amanda's son.

This book was, basically, fine. Knowing Nicholas Sparks' reputation and having seen The Notebook and A Walk to Remember, I knew someone was going to die tragically. i didn't get hooked into the narrative, it just sort of washed over me without leaving much of an impression. It's written like it's supposed to be a movie, too, with letters from Tuck at points that you expect would be prime for voiceover of a montage. When it comes to the writing, that was also bland and cinematic. Only the villains are unattractive, and the occasional interior monologues we get from them are pretty laughable.

Overall, the book was mostly "inoffensive." Dawson's creepy behaviours—being a total loner, spying on his victim's family, getting in a serious physical altercation with his cousin and then not bothering to mention it to Amanda—actually get called out, by Amanda, which I appreciated and didn't expect. Her own unfair blaming of her husband for her son's accident is also called out. The whole thing just feels very calculated, though, and I don't know if I just think that because of what I know about Nicholas Sparks.

I'm glad to have read The Best of Me just to see what all the fuss is about, but as I expected, I'm not a fan.

After I'd finished this book, two different people asked: did I cry? No.

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