Most of you will know Nicholas Sparks as the author of The Notebook. I never read the book, but I watched the movie several times. It is lovely and romantic, and sad as romantic movies often are. This book is a gentle book, a calming book, full of reminiscences about growing up in Beaufort, a coastal town in the South.
The story is told in the first person as if we are sitting together in a garden or watching the waves roll in. The teller is a mature man, remembering back to when he was 17. As with most teenagers’ lives, there is comedy, insecurity, fumbling one’s way into and through a first relationship, sometimes not seeing people for what they are or understanding why they are who they are. And, I have to say, I wept several times before this story was over. You have been forewarned.
Sparks’s writing makes it easy to picture the hometown, the characters, and to hear the protagonist’s voice in our head.
We hear about Hegbert, the local Baptist minister who would froth at the mouth in sermons on fornicators. So the young boys “would hide behind the trees and shout, ‘Hegbert is a fornicator!’ when we saw him walking down the street, and we’d giggle like idiots, like we were the wittiest creatures to ever inhabit the planet.
“Old Hegbert, he’d stop dead in his tracks and his ears would perk up — I swear to God, they actually moved — and he’d turn this bright shade of red, like he’d just drunk gasoline, and the big green veins in his neck would start sticking out all over, like those maps of the Amazon River that you see in National Geographic” (p. 4-5).
Mostly the story is about the young man and the minister’s daughter. It is like one of those 1940’s movies where she dresses in a dowdy plaid skirt and a brown cardigan and always wears her hair in a bun and carries her Bible. She often eats by herself at lunch. She does loads of charitable work including visiting an orphanage. Adults love her, teens laugh at her. She and the storyteller end up in a Drama class together. He took it because he thought it would be easier than Chemistry.
They are performing the story of a Christmas Angel, sort of an adaptation of A Christmas Carol. It was written by the minister, grown, become a town tradition, and his daughter has most often played the angel. One day she asks the young man if he will come over to her house. Young men are not allowed in the house so he perches on a chair on the porch having a lemonade. He turns the chair away from the road lest anyone see him there. She asks if he will do her a favor and audition for the lead. The foregone conclusion had been that it would be played by a shy boy with a stutter. She says she wants the play to be really special for her father this year so she needs the teller to help out. He is reluctant but finally accepts. (I must say here that most men never have a chance against a determined woman. You might as well just give in and go for the ride).
Every time she asks him to do something for her, to walk her home after rehersals, to go with her to the orphanage to deliver toys, to collect the charity collection cans she has in businesses all of over time, he thinks about saying “no,” wants to say “no” but says “yes.” Is it pity? Is it a feeling that her request is the “right thing to do.” or is it something else?
He asks her to the school dance because his old girlfriend is going with someone else, everyone else has a date, and he feels that as a school officer he needs to make an appearance. We see the angst as he goes through the yearbook, looking at every girl’s photo, thinking people will tease him if he brings her, thinking she will wear something like what she wears to school. Her father pulls him aside to make sure the kids aren’t planning to play some horrible joke on her (like in the movie Carrie).They finally go to the dance and he actually has a decent time.
She knows what she wants and she quietly goes about taming the young man. By the time they do the Christmas play he suddenly sees her with her hair down, as the angel, and she is stunning. We see their budding romance, but as often happens in these books, tragedy is waiting around the corner. Make yourself a nice cup of tea, curl up on the couch, and have a quiet evening and a box of tissues handy.
Sparks, Nicholas. (1999). A Walk to Remember. ISBN 0-446-52553-7, 240 pages.