Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook (1996)
I admit, this is my first Nicholas Spark’s book. It’s also the closest thing I’ve read to Chic Lit since Bridges of Madison County. And yes, I’ll admit in a rather self-righteous fashion, I’ve read both books and have seen neither movie.
At least half a dozen people suggested I read The Notebook since last summer when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Although she is no where near the stage of Allie, in the book, one can only wonder what the future holds. In my mind, my parents have had an idyllic marriage, kind of like Noah and Allie. Noah and Allie met one summer in New Bern, North Carolina, when she was 15 and he 17. Fourteen years and a World War later, they meet again, right before Allie’s wedding to a “hot shot Raleigh attorney. “ (being from NC, I can say that!) As far as what happens after they meet, Sparks leaves you in suspense. Will Allie go back to her attorney or stay with Noah? You don’t learn what happens until the last part of the book when the two of them are in a nursing home. Allie has Alzheimer’s and generally doesn’t know Noah, although sometimes when he reads their story to her, there is a spark and it’s like they fall in love again. But then, “the thief comes in the night” and takes her away again.
In addition to reading the story because of the subject matter on Alzheimer’s, I was recently encouraged to read Sparks because of the settings of his books reminded them of some of my writing about exploring the coastal waters of Eastern North Carolina. Like Noah in the book, I grew up near the coast and spent many days in a canoe exploring the tidal streams. Sparks does a wonderful job painting a picture of the natural environment.
Not only did this book bringing up family issues about dealing with the disease, it also stirred up within me lost feelings from the summer of ’90. I was working in Idaho. Toward the end of the season, I met a teacher from there who had just called off an engagement. We had an intense relationship that lasted only a couple of weeks. Reading Sparks, I once again I recalled nights sitting in hot springs under the desert sky and a snowball fight in late on August afternoon, up in the high country, when we were caught in a winter storm. The highlight of our brief courtship was a dining at a Cajun Restaurant (near Ketchum). The chef served an ice cream dish with brandy blazing as his deep voice sang out “I Only Have Eyes for You.” After the summer was over, she went back to teaching and I headed to a job in New York State. I never saw her again and my calls and letters went unanswered. About a year later a friend in Idaho called me with the news that she’d gotten married. With such memories, I was a bit jealous of Noah’s good fortune.
If someone wants to learn about Alzheimer’s, I would recommend reading David Shenk’s, The Forgetting, Alzheimer’s: Portrait of an Epidemic. I wrote about it in my blog last summer. It’s a beautiful piece of literature about a horrible subject matter. Another recommendation, for about what Alzheimer’s can do to a family, is James Carroll’s, An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War that Came Between Us. Although this book is certainly not about the disease, it deals with the disease in the closing pages of the book. Carroll, a former Catholic priest, is writing about how the Vietnam War and religion split him and his father (who was an Air Force General). Then, in the end, Alzheimer’s became a hindrance to any true reconciliation between father and son. Carroll’s book, like Sparks, reminds us to make the most of the time we have at hand, for tomorrow may be too late.
If you have read any of these books, I’d love to know your thoughts.