Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Choice

Gabby moves to a new town to be closer with her boyfriend of four years, Kevin. Just her luck she happens to move in next door to a very attractive, very single, very charismatic man. But she isn't interested in him. No. She has a boyfriend. Then why did she find herself spending so much time with him? And thinking about him...a lot? As she gets to know Travis, she begins to realize that she has to make a choice. But that is nothing compared to the one Travis is forced to make. A choice that can't be undone and will change their lives forever. 

Normally, I find Nicholas Sparks novels slightly pretentious and forced. It is one of the reasons I haven't finished one in years. It is the same routine over and over again. Two people fall in love. Someone dies. Whether it's the dog, or the friend, or the woman, or the man. To be fair Sparks tries to push himself by adding different woeful tricks to his novel--a cancer patient here, an autistic son there--but a lot of the time, it can seem like just that--a trick. Sparks is searching for another tragic twist that will leave his readers bawling but by now he is grasping at straws. This can cause his writing to appear mechanical, stiff, and coerced. On the surface, The Choice wasn't significantly different than the other NS novels I've started and then quickly abandoned in the past. But this time it works--well, sort of. Probably because the true "tragedy" of the novel didn't become evident until I had already become invested in the story. 

The story of Gabby and Travis is cute. It seems like something that could happen to a friend or a sister. It is a sweet story about a boy and girl who fall in love. It is predictable and sappy. But when you pick up a Sparks novel, you are in the mood for sappy. But a little sap goes a long way. That is something Sparks seems to forget. The Choice cute summer read. It tries a little too hard in places but we can forgive--and try to forget--because the central couple is so adorable. And as a reader, I couldn't help but root for them. Don't we all wish we could find a good boy who likes to travel the world, scuba dives, likes children and wants a family, owns a lot of land, has an amazing body, and brings in a vet salary? Oh, Nicholas Sparks. You really know how to get a woman's heart pattering. 

The Choice is an enjoyable book to pass the time. It isn't life-altering and it is quite forgettable but there is no denying that it is cute. It isn't quite the tear-jerker that Sparks is known for but it is sweet and easy to read. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Never Let Me Go

Kathy H. is a student at Hailsham. She is a clone who, at the right age, will donate her organs to save the lives of the humans she was created to save. Kathy and her fellow students never question this. It is the way it is supposed to be. The guardians at Hailsham are quick to remind the students how special they are but as Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy get older they begin to hope for a different future.  
Since the real plot of the story is only hinted at for the first half of the novel, this novel is very character driven. Thankfully, they are, in most cases, extremely well-fleshed-out motivated by commonplace desires and fears. Ruth is a horrid character but her desire to be included and her fear of loneliness makes it clear that she is not a the bad guy to Kathy's good guy. They are both imperfect creatures but it is easy to side with Kathy because as readers we are inside her mind. Kathy seems so human in her narrative, it is often easy to forget that she is in fact a clone. Her tangents are a large part of that--even if the overall effect is to make the book more dull. It is like when your friend is telling a funny story about their cat and they feel the need to describe the color of shirt they were wearing when it happened. Ishiguro also does a brilliant job of inserting little moments that are so innately human that they are easy to overlook.
In the strictest sense Never Let Me Go is a science-fiction novel that presents an reimagined image of our past where clones were created to serve as organ donors. But it is so removed from any science-fiction that I've ever read that it is hard to lump this book into that category. It is not an easy read. It is a book that very much requires the correct mindset. It is not a happy book, to say the least. But it is a powerful one. The scene that sticks out especially in my mind was the one with Kathy dancing with the pillow when she was a young girl. I can see it so vividly in my mind, from Madame's point of view and from Kathy's. It is such a simple scene but a truly beautiful one.
Never Let Me Go is not an obviously good book. It doesn't fascinate and ensnare readers at first glance. In actuality, it is a terribly hard and boring book to read at times. The prose can feel long, overly descriptive, and a bit monotonous in parts. It is not until moments after the last page has been read and the book lays closed on your bedside table that the beautiful haunting spirit of the novel finally hits. The story of Kathy and Tommy and Ruth. The tragedy and the pain of letting go to our dreams and the people we love. The experience is heighten even more with the movie adaptation's soundtrack playing in the back of your mind--particularly this little gem, Reprise.
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