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Published on: 12/18/16 7:26 AM

Book review: Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks

An easy read

Two by Two is the twentieth novel of bestselling author Sparks, and that`s no mean feat. As everyone on Planet Earth knows, Sparks made his name and fame with that  romantic tear-jerker, The Notebook, and followed that up with many international bestsellers in the same genre, playing to strength, as it were. Many of his books became movies, and many of those movies became huge box office hits.

So. What lies at the heart of the Nicholas Sparks phenom? That is an easy one to parse. His books invariably have simple, romantic  plots adequately spiced with just enough drama, stock characters and are all written in the most reader-friendly style; more a well- padded Mills and Boon offering than a thought- provoking Richard Ford one. Not that Sparks fans are complaining.

Two by Two  faithfully  checks many of the above-mentioned predictable boxes. An earnest, caring, well-meaning hero – check. An unpleasant, selfish wife -check. An almost  perfect, syrupy- sweet child – check. An acerbic older sister-check. A warm and lovely ex-girlfriend – check. A supportive family – check. And the mainstay of many a Sparks bestseller, a bittersweet conclusion – check.

Oh, in case you were wondering, the title refers to a story read by the hero Russell Green to his daughter about Noah’s Ark and the animals arriving there in pairs.

The story revolves around Russell Green, devoted husband and loving father to Vivian and London respectively. Russell,  who makes a living in advertising, decides to strike out on his own, triggering off a chain of events. Soon after, Vivian returns to the workforce after having been a stay- at- home mom for a while, starts an affair with her boss and promptly becomes an absentee mother. Russell then, has to become the primary parent and caregiver of his  five- year-old daughter. In the process, he learns to handle all the challenges life (or Nicholas Sparks)  throws at him, like single-parenting, setting up a new company, dealing with an impending divorce. In all this, Russell  is not entirely alone; Marge, his older sister, may make many a droll  comment  at his expense  but definitely has his back. Liz, Marge`s partner, is also a well- balanced, sensible friend to Russell. And finally there is Emily, the ex-girlfriend, cast here as Earth Mother and artist rolled into one.

The book turns  interesting when it deals with the various pushes and pulls of single- parenting. The juggling of time, the schlepping of the child to various extra-curricular activities, the challenge of feeding her daily meals if not exactly healthy ones, the soothing of an occasional tantrum, the constant entertaining involved … and the relentless routine.

It has to be said. The book  bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1979 Academy Award- winning film Kramer vs Kramer starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. Many of the themes in the film find an echo here. A father who works in advertising,  who has to learn the art of single-parenting, a mother who leaves her only child  only to return ,  and even the plot point of an accident the child has,  for which the father is held unfairly responsible.

However, the seminal film reflected an important change in the way both motherhood and fatherhood was viewed in the 70s. Sparks has no such intentions and this book does not lead the reader into any sort of introspection. It is fashioned as an easy read.

Occasionally though, Sparks does make some thought- provoking points. When Russell is complaining about the juggling that single-parenting entails, Vivian makes an astute point: “It`s not like I’m asking you to do something I haven’t been doing for years.` Again,  at one part Russell ponders the wisdom of involving his daughter in so many non-stop activities — art, tennis, dancing — all of which he realises,  makes him ‘work’ for London instead of enjoying  time with her. He wonders whether its peer pressure, a parent’s need for vicarious living or that of building a college resume, that is responsible for this state of affairs.

For the most part though, the story proceeds on its predictable path. The plot-points in the book are trite, banal  and can be spotted a mile off. It`s no spoiler to reveal that his weak ‘people pleaser’ of a hero will come into his own in the end. Or even that he will conveniently and swiftly get over his split from his wife and start  afresh with Emily.

And another thing. Throughout the book, Sparks delivers homilies at regular intervals. `Happiness isn’t something someone can deliver. It comes from within` is one such. Another gem goes thusly: `Remember that family,  unlike most of the people you might meet in life, will always be around.` This is stuff Karan Johar could use as taglines.

Two by two by Nicholas Sparks/Sphere Publishers/Hachette India distributors/Rs 399/606 pages.

This ran in THE HINDU LITERARY REVIEW of 18 Dec 2016.


Nicholas SparksTwo by Two

Sheila Kumar • December 18, 2016

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