by Becca Naylor
We’ve all seen the movie trailers. There’s a man and a woman, both Caucasian and visually stunning, who meet and immediately feel a connection, but they are kept apart by circumstance. One or both will carry emotional baggage, perhaps in the form of abuse, spurned love, or a loved one’s death. But we know that love conquers all, so the two will inevitably come together in the end after facing the obstacles to their romance. Also it will rain at least once during a dramatic moment. Do they live happily ever after? Who’s to say.
If you’ve never read a novel by Nicholas Sparks or have seen the movie based on one of his books, then refer to the previous paragraph for the basic plot summary of every piece of fiction Sparks has written since The Notebook was released in 1996. The only variances in Sparks’s eighteen novels are the age of the characters, their occupations, and their obstacles to lifelong romance.
Readers, if you happen to read Nicholas Sparks and enjoy his work, that’s perfectly fine. As Amy Poehler says, “Good for [you], not for me.” I’m just here to explain why I don’t partake in the Sparks phenomenon. Your response is up to you.
My first issue with Sparks is a topic I’ve already introduced. His story lines are remarkably similar, with few variations novel to novel. It seems that he has found the formula for success, and he’s sticking with it. That’s fine if his life goals are to make money and satisfy romance-starved teens, twenty-somethings, and sexually-frustrated middle-aged women. The aim of fiction is not to find the formula for success, or even to make people happy. It’s to reveal truth. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see much truth being revealed in Sparks’s novels. I have read The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, and Safe Haven, and I struggle to find any sort of deeper meaning being revealed. What I do get out of reading these novels is that love conquers all, infidelity is always on the table, and sometimes bad things happen to good people (Yeah, like every day.)
Another point I’d like to address is something I’ve noticed both in the three Sparks books I’ve read and in the movies based on his novels, and it’s a startling lack of diversity. Every one of the eighteen novels Sparks has written features two Caucasians, usually middle-class. Now, this may be less Sparks’s fault and more of the reader’s fault for assuming that the protagonists are white, since I do not recall Sparks specifying race in the three books of his that I have read. However, the same lack of diversity is evident in his film adaptations. Nicholas Sparks has a chance to remedy this since he recently started his own production company, aptly named Nicholas Sparks Productions. I choose to hope that he will put more thought into diverse casting, even though he has clearly been involved with casting decisions in the past. Allegedly, Ryan Gosling had to be persuaded by Sparks to star as Noah in The Notebook because Gosling found Noah’s story arc too boring. To add to my concern, Nicholas Sparks was sued by Saul Benjamin, the former headmaster at the school Sparks founded (more on that later), in 2006 for creating a hostile work environment for Benjamin. Benjamin claimed that Sparks’s school experienced a lack of diversity as the result of Sparks’s racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. Sparks denied the allegations.
Now for The Epiphany School of Global Studies (yes, that’s what it’s called). Located in New Bern, NC, this K-12 school offers a different kind of learning experience for your child. Students’s primary focus is to study the world and other cultures, while cultivating a sense of community with all humanity. Nicholas Sparks and his now ex-wife Catherine founded Epiphany in 2006 after members of the New Bern community expressed a desire for a school with a Global Studies focus. When I first discovered Epiphany and Sparks’s involvement, I found it odd, but the more I delve into the school’s website, the more I find the whole concept unsettling. First of all, the name of the school itself is a bit bizarre. Epiphany? Who had this epiphany…and who sent it? The word epiphany typically refers to a manifestation of a deity or perception into an essential truth. I’ve already stated that I don’t think Sparks has any kind of perception of truth, and if Sparks has seen a deity, I would be concerned for other reasons. Also, the language used on the website makes me wonder what exactly these children are learning. There’s mention of SAT prep, but most of the information in the “About” section emphasizes how these students will be preparing for the world they will face, globalization, human experience, and more globalization. I would also like to point out that while perusing Epiphany’s website, I counted exactly one student in the photos who was not obviously Caucasian, even though New Bern’s demographics include many non-whites.
Nicholas Sparks wields undue influence over our culture, and he lowers the standards for popular fiction as a result. Ask any literature aficionado and he or she will tell you that there is a distinct difference between contemporary fiction and popular fiction, with contemporary fiction being the higher esteemed category. Contemporary fiction, in general, achieves the aim of fiction writing, which is to reveal truth and show skill in craft. Popular fiction, on the other hand, is often formulaic, surface-level entertainment, with little skill or a deeper meaning to be revealed. You may know where I’m going with this. Nicholas Sparks will never be classified as contemporary fiction (at least not on my watch). I don’t know if I have enough faith in humanity to believe that contemporary fiction could one day also be considered popular fiction, but I hope I’m wrong.