Nights in Rodanthe by Nicholas Sparks

May 7, 2009

nights-in-rodanthe I’m not a huge Nicholas Sparks fan, and in fact have disliked more of his novels than I’ve liked. But I don’t exactly hate his works either, so I wasn’t opposed to trying out the 2002 novel Nights in Rodanthe, especially because it was very short and seemed like a quick, easy read. It turned out to be more or less what I expected: a light, somewhat entertaining book that was not particularly memorable in any respect.

Plot summary (with possible spoilers): The story opens in the present, with 60-year-old Adrienne Willis worrying about her recently widowed daughter Amanda’s condition. Amanda hasn’t been able to function since her husband died eight months ago, and that has of course had an adverse effect on her children. Adrienne wants to do something to get Amanda going again, so she decides to tell her daughter story from her past, something that she’s never told anyone before.

Adrienne’s narrative flashes back 15 years to a fall weekend that she spent in the small town of Rodanthe on the Outer Banks in North Carolina. She had just gotten divorced from Jack, her husband of 18 years, and still hadn’t come to terms with the idea of raising her three kids on her own, or of possibly jumping back into the dating pool at the age of 45. Her friend Jean thought it would be a good idea for Adrienne to get away for a while, so she asked her to come and run her small bed & breakfast for a few days. Since it’s the off-season, there will only be one guest, which should be easy enough for Adrienne to handle.

The guest turns out to be 54-year-old surgeon Paul Flanner, who also happens to be recently divorced. Paul is instantly attracted to Adrienne, and while she feels something for him too, she can hardly believe that a good-looking man would be interested in her. The two get to know each other over coffee and dinner, their mutual attraction growing as they open up about personal subjects. A huge storm traps them in the B&B together, essentially sealing their fate as they both fall in love.

After spending a memorable five days together, Paul drops a bombshell: he must go away to Ecuador to work on a Doctors Without Borders project in order to patch up his relationship with his son. Though devastated, Adrienne understands why he must leave and promises to wait for him. Paul will return in exactly one year, he says, and while he’s gone, he’ll write to her as often as possible.

The narrative then comes back to the present. Amanda — and the reader — can’t help but wonder why Paul is not in Adrienne’s life anymore since they both seemed so in love with each other. The answer to the question, and indeed the entire story, are enough to get Amanda in gear and get her life back on track.

My Reaction: Nights in Rodanthe didn’t annoy me as much as some of Sparks’ other novels have, perhaps because it wasn’t as chock-full of sappy sentimentality as some of the other ones. Sure, there was the usual love-at-first-sight encounter (something that I usually abhor), but Sparks didn’t write about it in such an extreme way this time, which made it much easier to take.

I actually liked both Adrienne and Paul, and found myself wanting their relationship to succeed. I was even a bit disappointed to learn that they never got back together, especially because the reason — Paul dying in a Jeep accident in Ecuador shortly before he was due to return to Adrienne — was a bit on the melodramatic side. But it wasn’t enough to turn me off the book completely, so I consider that progress for my “relationship” with Sparks (as a reader, I mean).

One thing I couldn’t understand though is why Sparks chose to have Adrienne still be alone 15 years later. Paul was supposed to have had this profound effect on her life, giving her confidence in herself and restoring her faith in love, etc. And yet she stayed single even after it was clear that he was never coming back. Why? That made her pretty much the same character that she was in the beginning of the book, didn’t it? I think it would have been better to have Adrienne be with some other man, one that she also truly loved, in order to show that she really did change because of Paul.

Overall, Nights in Rodanthe was a decent little love story. It’s rather formulaic if you know Sparks’s other works and a bit on the predictable side, but it has good characters and is a very quick read. Perfect for a long afternoon on the beach! I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

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