Orwell, in 1984, envisioned a world in which book-writing machines churned out fiction like flapjacks. A few notes of tension, a beat of inexplicable attraction, a crescendo of emotion, a syrupy climax, and, voila: love in book form. Books in Orwell’s nightmarish world are like psychotropic syringes, delivering numbness or euphoria to the reader on command. Only about twenty years late, Orwell’s dystopian vision has come to fruition in the form of Nicholas Sparks, who is, in all senses, a book-writing machine. Sparks’s book The Choice is among the latest in his factory line of nine New York Times bestsellers; I can only hope that The Choice will be Sparks’s ‘Ninth Symphony.’
I wanted to like The Choice. It would have made for a good story, at least: how a sappy romance novel managed to win over even a frigid Ivy Leaguer; how the three pages of acknowledgments were in fact a signal of breadth, not verbosity; how the cheesy cover depicting a collie lying in a field of wheat proved once and for all, “you can’t judge a book by its cover”; how the unimaginative opening line of narration–”Okay, I’ll be honest.”–gave way to a gripping plot. But, okay, I’ll be honest: The Choice is a tired love formula, as soporific as a hit of soma.
The Choice begins when the handsome misanthropic protagonist Travis spies his beautiful new neighbor Gabby in her yard and immediately goes gaga. But, there’s a twist: she is engaged to a straight-laced business type who lives in the city. After some soul-searching, she flees from her relationship to be with Travis. Just as they commit, though, tragedy strikes: Gabby falls into a coma after a terrible accident.
If the plot sounds familiar, that’s because it is a zombie-like reincarnation of Sparks’s most famous novels, The Notebook and A Walk to Remember: boy meets girl, boy saves girl from dull fiance, girl falls into coma. Sparks has found a winning formula here, and he is sticking with it. It’s not difficult to see how this rehashed plot is calculated to tug at the heartstrings of bored housewives, yearning to be saved from their TV-dinner husbands, to fall into Snow White comas, and to reawaken to the kiss of a Prince Charming.
One must wonder how Sparks truly feels about the women he writes for, given that he has a penchant for killing off his novels’ heroines. (Coma, cancer, and Alzheimer’s are his weapons of choice.) Sparks treats his readers like drug addicts: once he’s built up their tolerance for saccharinity, it seems, he writes them the same novel again, but with a new title and an extra dose of euphoria. If A Walk to Remember is Sparks’s gateway novel, The Choice is a bad acid trip. While die-hard Sparks fans may already be addicted, I recommend to those who have not yet dabbled to just say ‘no.’
What The Choice suffers from is a machine-like lack of imagination, its plot twists as predictable as mathematical calculations. In 2008, the scientist P. M. Parker claimed to be the first person to code a book-writing formula, which can churn out novels at the flip of a switch. Apparently he never heard of Nicholas Sparks.