The Notebook

A Walk to Remember

Nights in Rodanthe
by Nicholas Sparks
(Warner, $22.95, PG) ISBN 0-446-53133-2
If you were blown away by the grand passion of the not-much-more-than-a-one-night stand in The Bridges of Madison County (how come the poor cuckolded Iowa farmer was taking the kiddies to the Illinois State Fair?) and didn’t think it the least bit odd that years later their children would wax sentimental over how romantic it was that Mommy cheated on Dear Old Dad, then you’ll want to check out Nights in Rodanthe, the Outer Banks rendition of Bridges. Personally, I think any woman whose hubby has taken the children off for a few days leaving her in blissful solitude would be crazy to take in another man to cook and clean for and that spending the rest of your life yearning for a just-passing-through stud is a gargantuan waste of time.

Adrienne Willis’s daughter Amanda has been widowed and is deeply grieving. To encourage her to go on with her life, she tells her the story of her own doomed love.

After eighteen years of marriage, Adrienne’s husband Jack left her for another woman. Three years later she’s learned that men aren’t interested in a divorced woman with three teenaged children. To complicate matters further, Adrienne’s father is in a nursing home following several strokes, and she’s worried how she’s going to pay for it.

Paul Flanner is a successful plastic surgeon whose single-minded devotion to his career led to a divorce and to an estrangement from his only child, a son who’s working as a physician at a rural clinic in Ecuador. The unexpected death of a patient has led to a personal crisis; he sells his practice and his home. Before leaving to join his son in Ecuador in hopes of reestablishing a relationship, he travels to Rodanthe, North Carolina, a small tourist and fishing community on the Outer Banks.

Adrienne is filling in for the owner of a bed-and-breakfast. Paul is the only guest at the Inn; it is January, off-season, and a nor’easter is moving in. Atmospheric conditions are right for a steamy romance, but it’s already obvious that Amanda has never heard of Paul so a happily ever after seems unlikely.

I can recommend a week of nights and days in the Outer Banks, but I don’t recommend this tearfest as the best introduction. A good romance needs a hero and heroine who are uniquely meant for each other, but this pair appears mismatched.

Adrienne doesn’t come across as a real woman. She’s got about as much life as a still photograph - she’s too passive, too acquiescent. She seems to enjoy the role of sacrificial victim. After all, the big events of her life have been men walking out on her. “And you need this, Paul. It’s been eating you up; if you don’t go now, part of me wonders if you ever will.” Give this lady some assertiveness training!

Paul Flanner is a focused, intense man. He does nothing by half-measures. For years he dedicated all his energies to his career. Now he realizes how much life passed him by. Does he take a leave of absence and mothball his house so he can go work side-by-side male-bonding with sonny boy in South America? Nope. Sells his practice. Sells his house. No plans beyond the immediate ones. Adrienne might recall this as the great love of her life, but given more time together he probably wouldn’t have worn well. Sooner or later, they’d have to get out of bed, and he’d find another objective.

Perhaps I’m being too simplistic in my analysis, but it seems to me that there’s a definite difference in romances written by male and female authors. Women write about one-man-one-woman happily-ever-after lifetime loves. Men write about short-time great-sex he-moves-on she’s-forever-transfigured kind of love. Love that calls for wine, large bathtubs, and a quick exit. Love that doesn’t involve finding out that she squeezes the toothpaste tube in the middle or that he thinks nothing of pulling on a sweaty t-shirt after showering. And it’s not only romance. James Bond does it. Dirk Pitt does it. He moves on to conquer more of the world, but ah, those poor women who’ve been f***ed by the best and are forever ruined for any other man.... As I said, it must be a male thing.

What amazes me is that purportedly this is a tale being told by a mother to a daughter to help her deal with her grief. Frankly, I’d think she’d be more likely to need a suicide watch afterwards! The moral is yes, men can pass through a woman’s life but the forever-after pain of the woman left behind is so excruciating it’s worth it. Huh?

I also think it’s unfair to equate Adrienne’s slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am love affair with Amanda’s love for her husband. What’s the message she’s supposed to be getting here? Suffering over men is a woman’s lot in life? Amanda and Brent had a life together - they shared years, raised children; she watched him die of cancer. If Adrienne thinks her doomed love affair with Paul rivals that kind of relationship, she should be getting some mother-daughter advice herself.

Nicholas Sparks has made a successful career over these short, male-oriented tear-jerkers. Yes, I cried over Nights in Rodanthe, but I cry over nearly everything - sad stories, happy stories, you name it. I could also cry over how Nights has made the best seller lists but truly superb romance authors such as Roberta Gellis and Carla Kelly remain in near-obscurity.

But if you loved Bridges, you’ll probably want to check out Nights because it’s about as long and about as deep.

--Lesley Dunlap

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