Nicholas Sparks Proposes a Haunting Choice
The Choice by Nicholas Sparks
Nicholas Sparks' The Choice is a book destined to be beloved of book clubs while confounding the critics who attempt to review it.
The book is richly layered with themes that book club members will devour. It provides a bountiful harvest of meaty discussion topics that can be shared amongst those who have read its pages.
For the book critic whose responsibility is to the potential readers who have not yet cracked open the spine, the task of reviewing it is fraught with dangers. After all, it is the critic's job to discuss the themes of the book while not revealing too much of the plot or spoiling the surprises that the author has in store for readers.
The Choice is carefully constructed so that it tells a lyrical and interesting story while not revealing the theme or the main plot until the final third of the book. The first two-thirds of the book are mostly foreshadowing and setting the stage. The first chapter gives us a hint of what is to come, but is purposefully vague and careful to hide what the real choice is that the title refers to. It's a brilliant construction that builds suspense in a story that is free of violence or traditional mystery. The book is a love story, not a thriller, yet Sparks' storytelling is so expert that he builds in a compelling suspense.
Nicholas Sparks has a gentle tone when it comes to his stories. He doesn't write books with the intent of making his readers squirm at the abundance of blood or flinch from the language or painful imagery. Instead, he tells his stories almost the way a fond parent would sing a lullaby. The stories aren't vapid, but they are gently told, mesmerizing the reader rather than shocking them.
In The Choice, he creates two neighbors, Travis Parker and Gabby Holland. Travis is a laid-back nice guy who hasn't bothered to marry because he hasn't yet found anyone who can get beyond the luster of sex appeal into a deeply connected relationship. Gabby, on the other hand, is stressed, tense, worried about her job, but very much in love with her boyfriend, a man who loves her but who isn't ready to make a commitment.
The two meet and fireworks go off.
A large portion of the book focuses on the week that these two first meet. Nicholas Sparks takes his time in revealing their personalities. We do have to rely on Travis' description of Gabby as a woman with a delightful sense of humor, because for most of the book she rather comes across as highly neurotic. Nor is Travis my idea of a romantic hero. Thankfully, books are not a dating service. You don't have to be attracted to the main characters to have a satisfying experience.
One of the most delightful characters in the book is Travis' sister Stephanie. She's high-spirited, knows when not to take herself seriously and is highly observant. She gives the readers the short cuts into the lives of the people who fill in Travis' social circle.
The book does take a very serious turn, one that can haunt any readers who put themselves into the novel's situation and ask what they would do if faced with the decision of the characters in this book. And Nicholas Sparks makes it very difficult for his readers to not ask those questions nor to consider multiple reasons for making one choice over another. Does Travis do the right thing or doesn't he? Does the outcome justify his choice? What if the outcome had been different?
Nicholas Sparks is also careful to excise predictability from the ending of his novel, making the read all the more compelling and heartbreaking.
The Choice will leave its readers wanting to discuss the central question with their loved ones, their friends, even with strangers. But as the critic, I shan't spoil the book for you by telling you what choice the character face. Instead, I'll just tell you that even if you like the main characters as little as I did, The Choice is a rewarding read for its thought-provoking questions.