Suzanneís Diary for Nicholas
by James Patterson
(Little Brown, $22.95, PG) ISBN 0-316-96944-3
Suzanneís Diary for Nicholas has already zoomed to the top of the bestseller list, so there are obviously a multitude of readers who are willing to follow author James Patterson as he takes a break from his thriller novels to create this hackneyed love story. Itís not the worst romance novel Iíve ever read by a man. But it does little to quell my annoyance that most female romance authors toil in relative obscurity while men like Patterson, Nicholas Sparks and James Michael Pratt write drivel that sells like hotcakes.

Katie Wilkinson has just been unceremoniously dumped by the man she thought she would be with forever. In her position as a book editor, she met a poet named Matt and fell madly in love, but he abruptly broke off their relationship without any explanation. Shortly after he disappears, however, Matt sends her a diary, written by a woman named Suzanne and addressed to her infant son, Nicholas. Katie knows that Matt was married to Suzanne, but he refused to talk about her. So Katie starts reading, hoping that by understanding Suzanne, she will understand her former lover, and maybe gain a second chance with him.

Suzanneís diary reveals the story of a woman whose life changes dramatically when she has a heart attack at the young age of 35. A hard-working physician, she decides to leave her Boston home and move to slower-paced Marthaís Vineyard. There she meets her true love and has the joyous experience of becoming a mother.

I shouldnít reveal too much more of the thin plot, although astute readers will guess what is in store for Suzanne, Matt, Nicholas and Katie. The question is, will they care? Patterson has evidently made a name for himself writing plot-twisting thrillers that are light on the character development. Someone should have told him that love stories require real characters, because the ones heís created here are paper dolls. Everyone is perfect - Matt is masculine but sensitive, Suzanne is a caring healer. Suzanne and Matt never fight or disagree and their love is never tested. Nicholas never seems to cry, keep his parents up all night or cause any child care worries (Matt has a perfect mother who has nothing better to do than watch her grandson all day). Then, (dramatic chord) fate strikes. Tragedy ensues. Okay, there are a few minor surprises, including one in the end that did evince a tiny little ďoh!Ē from me. But there is no character development, no ambiguities, only Pattersonís life lesson that he repeatedly whacks the reader over the head with, something about the five balls of life and the need to hold the glass ones carefully because the fifth one, work, is a rubber ball that will always bounce back. Huh? Why is it that male authors have to preach but female authors let their characters carry their messages more subtly for them?

The author bio mentions that James Patterson once lost someone he loved and that this book is based on his experience of learning to love again after a tragedy. I donít want to discount his pain, which Iím sure was genuine. But many of us have faced grief without earning millions of dollars by turning it into a best-selling novel, so forgive me for being a tad bit cynical.

One of Pattersonís characters cites that paragon of literary greatness, The Bridges of Madison County, and I canít help wondering if baby Nicholas is supposed to remind readers of Nicholas Sparks, author of The Notebook, et al. If those novels are your idea of great literature, then by all means go ahead and enjoy. Iíll just go back to my corner and rant incoherently about overlooked female authors, the unfairness of life, and so on.

--Susan Scribner

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