Friday, December 4, 2009
[Book Review] A Bend In The Road by Nicholas Sparks
368 Pages, Trade Paperback
Review Date: Dec. 4, 2009
I've seen the movies based off on Nicholas Sparks novels like A Walk To Remember and The Notebook and while I wanted to read the book (after watching the movie), time passed me by and I forgot all about my good intentions. I love those two movies mentioned earlier but of course, movies can't tell me much about the writing style of the writer now, can they? I've always wondered what Sparks' writing style is and I guess I'll never know if not for my husband's gracious aunt who lent me A Bend In The Road, I would have forgotten (again) to pick up a book by Sparks.
The story opens with a narrator telling the readers whose story he's writing about and what type of story it is. For starters, it is the love story of Missy and Miles Ryan and of Sarah Andrews and Miles Ryan. Missy Ryan, "a wife and mother in love with the life she lived," died two years ago and the killer was never found nor identified. She was found lying on the side of the road with a blanket covering her. "Her death dimmed the light in Jonah's eyes; it haunted Miles for two years..." Miles Ryan, as a husband, father and sheriff, he was so consumed with the thought of finding his wife's killer and bring him to justice that he never thought how Missy's death was affecting his son, Jonah -- until he found a note from Jonah's teacher, Miss Andrews, stating that she wanted to talk to him about how Jonah is doing in school.
So that afternoon, he dropped by the school and met with Miss Sarah Andrews who explained to him that Jonah is behind in reading, writing and math saying, "Johan's teachers had a responsibility to teach him, but they didn't... I'm sure it wasn't done out of malice -- it probably started because no one wanted to push him too hard" then she proceeded to suggest to Miles to work with Jonah everyday after school but since Miles' work schedule only allows him to work with Jonah two out of five school days, Sarah was kind enough to offer, "Now, I don't usually do this, but I'll make a deal with you... I'll work with Jonah after school the other three days a week if you promise to do the same on the two days you're off" which of course any sane parent would agree to and the payment: a fan to ward off the heat inside the classroom for Miss Andrews.
When Jonah heard of this deal, he said to his father, "I don't want tot stay after school" which of course Miles countered with, "I didn't ask if you wanted to." All throughout this scene, Miles never raised his voice at his son and he was calm and encouraging, helping Jonah see the positive side to staying in school for an hour or so longer with Miss Andrews. And because Jonah took a liking to Miss Andrews because "she's nice," Sarah ended up watching Jonah's soccer games and that was the start of her relationship with Miles. They went out on dates, and in time, "... their relationship progressed with dreamlike intensity. When they were apart, they hunger for the sight of each other; when they were together, they longed for more time." Then it was time for Miles and Jonah to meet Sarah's family.
Thanksgiving went by smoothly at the Andrews' and Jonah, finally catching up with school, was reduced to staying after school for just one day instead of three. And he was actually sad about that fact because he enjoys Miss Andrews' company. He missed Sarah all the more because Miles discovered something important at work when he arrested a drunk driver which lead to Miles being suspended and because Sarah actually agreed with Charlie "that he thinks it would be best ... until all this [investigation] works itself out" which further infuriated Miles and they started avoiding each other. Until a few days before Christmas.
She had to see him and they talked and Miles discovered a huge secret that screams betrayal. And now he questions everything they had.
Although Missy Ryan wasn't mentioned much only in snippets in the novel, the story basically revolves around her accident and untimely death. And one could see that her relationship with Miles can only be described as "... like two young kids, they couldn't keep their eyes and hands off each other. Hugging and kissing, holding hands, flirty looks -- it was like no one ever bothered to tell them that marriage was supposed to be hard... Brenda used to joke that Miles and Missy would probably be making out in a nursing home, fifty years from now" and when Jonah was born, "Missy took one look at the bundled newborn and knew motherhood was the best thing that had ever happened to her... she was a wife and mother in love with the life she lived."
"Her death dimmed the light in Jonah's eyes" as it would probably do to any children at such a young age and though he had problems in school, "Jonah is very intelligent. Once he learns something, he remembers it" as Sarah was explaining to Miles about Jonah's problems. He's also very polite and well behaved and though he knew that Miles wasn't so pleased with him after the talk his father had with Miss Andrews, he managed to say to his dad, "Thanks for not being too mad at me today" which is a really nice example for parents in the sense that parents should be like how Miles handled the whole school problem situation, being calm and encouraging instead of angry and screaming at their kids. Jonah, like most kids, is very observant of the people around him like when he said to Miles one day, "It's okay if you like Miss Andrews... because I think she likes you" and another observation that shows just how perceptive he can be was when Miles was so absorbed in looking over the file on Missy's death that he didn't talk to his son for a whole day and Jonah finally approached him asking why Miles didn't talk to him at all yesterday and the answer he came up with was "Because you were looking at those papers again... I don't like those papers... because they make you sad... and they make me sad too." And when Jonah saw his mother in one of the home videos Miles was watching, he missed her so much he said, "Why did mom have to die? ... I wish she was still here... She's never coming back..." which made Miles realize that no matter what happens, nothing can bring Missy back to life.
Sarah Andrews, "...as a young girl, she'd always assumed she would have the kind of life she wanted: marriage, children, a home in a neighborhood where families gathered in the yards on Friday evenings after work...," didn't get what she wanted in life for she can't ever be like Missy Ryan as she explained to Miles, "That's the reason Michael left me... I couldn't get pregnant... I can't have children. Ever... It just seemed so ironic... I'd spent my early twenties trying not to get pregnant. I used to panic if I forgot to take my birth control pills. I never even considered that I might not be able to have children." She tried to work it out with ex-husband Michael but after hearing the results from the doctor, Michael grew distant everyday and even had the audacity to say to Sarah, "You don't own me" when all she asked for was where he'd been out of worry. At the end of her marriage to Michael, she came to the conclusion that "... Sometimes, things don't work out the way we want them to" and now with the confession from Missy Ryan's killer, she couldn't make sense of the bitterness of her fate, "How on earth had this happened? ... why, of all the people in the world, had it been Miles who later came into her life?" and now it seems that the love she just found is about to be broken into a million shards of glass with this horrifying confession.
This is what guilt can do to a person's appearance: "...pale, with the pallor of someone who seldom ventured outside the library... she thought he almost looked like someone who'd gotten involved with drugs." He wasn't involved in drugs, of course. He was riddled with guilt that when "night would come. Like an itch I couldn't reach, the compulsion to spy nagged at me, growing stronger as the hours rolled on... and even though I knew it was wrong, I'd make the decision to go... and I would make my way through the bushes... one step after the next, not understanding what had driven me there. I watched them through the windows... when I would finally leave the window to return to my car... I would swear that I'd never do it again. That I would let them lead their lives without intrusion. The urge to watch them would be satiated and guilt would set in, and ... I would despise what I had done. I would pray for forgiveness, and there were times I wanted to kill myself... But then, no matter how much I wanted to stop, no matter how much I wanted to die, the urge would come again... then I'd say to myself that this would be the last time... and then, like a vampire, I would creep out into the night." After two years and meeting Miles Ryan in person, learning of Otis Timson being arrested for his crime, his conscience tells him, "You can't let someone innocent go to prison" hence thinking to himself, "I finally realized that I could keep the secret no longer... I know that by keeping silent, I was running the risk that more lives would be ruined. Missy had died because of me... But to save myself, to save an innocent man, to save Miles Ryan from himself, I also knew I would have to sacrifice my sister..." and like any normal nice guy, he confessed to his crime and "... wondered what prison was like... In the movies, prisons were worlds of their own, with their own laws, their own kings and pawns, and gangs... He had no doubt about this: If he ended up there, he would be a pawn... He would not survive in a place like that" and came to the realization that "I should have called then, that night, after I got home. It was wrong. There's no excuse for it, and I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what I did to you and I'm sorry for what I did to Jonah... I didn't know that keeping it inside was worse. It ate away at me... I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat... I couldn't stop thinking about it. And I've never stopped thinking about it. I even bring flowers to Missy's grave..."
And this is the picture of grief, anger and hatred: Missy's death "...haunted Miles for two years..." and when Sarah asked what Miles misses the most about Missy, he said, "I miss having her around... just being there when I got off work, or waking up beside her, or seeing her in the kitchen or out in the yard -- anywhere... there was something special in knowing that she would be there if I needed her." And for the past two years, he "wondered what would happen when I came face-to-face with the guy who did it. And when I found out it was Otis... I wanted to pull the trigger. I wanted to kill him." But it wasn't Otis who killed Missy. Someone entirely different from what he'd imagined the killer to be came forward with his confession and Miles, in his anger, arrested the boy, got into his car and still "hadn't wanted to believe him then, nor did he want to believe him now. Yet... he should have been watching the road. But instead -- ignoring everything but his own anger -- he'd almost driven head-on into another driver... He'd almost killed them all..." With the boy being tended to in the hospital, Miles was thinking, "with a simple call, he could be avenged... But what if on closer inspection, the answer wasn't what he had imagined it would be? What if the killer wasn't a drunk, wasn't an enemy; ... wasn't an act of reckless behavior? What if it was a boy with pimples and baggy pants and dark brown hair, and he was afraid and sorry for what happened and swore it was an accident that couldn't have been avoided? Did it matter then? ... Was he supposed to take the memory of his wife and the misery of the last two years... add his responsibility as a husband and a father and his duty to the law... take that total and subtract a boy's age and fear and obvious sorrow along with his love for Sarah, thus bringing the number back to zero? ... He knew with certainty that it would always matter, and he had to do something about it. In his mind, he didn't have a choice." In the end, Miles confronted the killer by Missy's grave saying, "You bring flowers, but you don't even know who she was, do you? ... If you knew her, you would have been bringing tulips... She used to plant a garden every spring with tulips. Did you know that? ... Did you know she was the first woman I'd ever loved? ... That's all I have left now. Memories. and there will never be any more. You took that from me... from Jonah, too... Did you know that Jonah has had nightmares since she died? That he still cries out for his mother in his sleep? ... Do you know how that makes me feel? ... I spent two years looking for the man who ruined my life. Jonah's life. I lost those two years because it was all I could think about... I wanted to find the person who killed her. I wanted that person to know how much he'd taken away from me that night. And I wanted the man who killed Missy to pay for what he did. You have no idea how much those thoughts consumed me... You killed my wife... I'll never forgive you, and I'll never forget... And I don't want you to even forget all that you took from me. You took away the person that I loved most in the world, you took my son's mother, and you took two years from my life... and make sure you do something with your life, something that doesn't make me regret what I'm doing..." and made the hardest choice he ever had to do his entire life. It was time to let it go. I'd already lost two years of my life, and I couldn't see the point in prolonging it anymore...No matter what happened... Missy wasn't coming back."
I enjoyed this novel very much because Nicholas Sparks has this engaging style that never fails to capture human emotion whether it be grief, anger, love or guilt. A Bend In The Road has a simplicity to it that shines out with life lessons that readers from all walks of life can benefit from not to mention characters that readers can relate to.