Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Nicholas Sparks writes another tender romance.

I picked this novel up in a weak moment, knowing enough about Nicholas Sparks to think: an easy read even if dull. I have to admit to being more engaged than I expected.

Safe Haven

Safe Haven (340 pages, Grand Central Publishing, $25.99) is a touching romance set in a coastal town in North Carolina. Nicholas Sparks is on familiar ground here, as several of his recent novels and a few well-produced movies suggest. This attempt is the story of a woman who has escaped from a brutal and abusive marriage.

As the story gradually emerges, we find that Katy, who has appeared suddenly in this seaside town, has actually arrived fearing for her life, after absconding from a marriage in New England. She has scars, both mental and physical, and it is clear that she is hiding something, but at first she is unwilling to open up to anyone.

Luckily a neighbor probes gently—and sometimes not too gently—and we begin to get a glimpse of this hideous past. Another person who takes an interest in her is Alex, a widower with two young children who runs the local store and boat house. As Katy and Alex get closer, party through her involvement with his children, she at first seems too hurt and shy to tell him anything about herself. When she finally opens up a bit, she finds a caring and encouraging guide. Alex does not want her to do anything she doesn’t want to do, and he manages to make her feel a little bit secure.

As soon as she does manage to feel secure, of course, her past returns to haunt her. Her husband, an undercover cop and a drunkard, has never stopped looking for her. His sick love is all tied up in his anger and resentment, and he is not sure whether he wants to recover his wife or kill her. He has definitely decided, though, that he will kill anyone who comes close to her.

When he finally shows up in the little town, Katy is not at home. Rather she is babysitting Alex’s kids while he attends a wedding in another town. The climax of the novel comes as the husband tires to burn the building where Katy and the children are sleeping. They are saved because Katy’s nosy neighbor has noticed something odd.

There are some harrowing moments as the novel draws to a conclusion, and Sparks does a decent job of building drama at the close. As readers might hope, Katy survives the attack and ends up even stronger for what has happened.

At times a reader might wish that the characters were more complex or the conversations more fully developed. But Sparks certainly captures something about romance in these southern novels. There are few writers who are more popular.

Nicholas Sparks

Safe Haven is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

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