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A Sparks with Some Spark:

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booksLast September I peeked into my inbox and to my delight, found a few e-mails that confirmed my feelings toward Nicholas Sparks’ novel “Nights in Rodanthe.” I no longer felt like a complete insensitive bitch. Adding to my amusement was another offer I couldn’t refuse: a Sparks challenge. Michael T. Rae of Ohio not only took my dare seriously, he also took it across state lines.

“We were going to enjoy a week of sun at Topsail Beach,” he wrote. “Instead, we got four days of record rainfall and had to find other fun and activities. A trip to Wilmington scored [us] a copy of the encore publication with your review of ‘Nights of Rodanthe.’ First let me say, ‘Right on!’ But I want to accept your challenge and [ask] you to read ‘Three Weeks With My Brother.’ If you agree with this recommendation, we’ll do dinner with you and your husband next September when we visit again.”

I readily admit: I rolled my eyes after I read the novel‘s synopsis. I thought that a pampered travelogue documenting a lavish excursion wouldn’t qualify for a down-to-earth read. Still, I poured myself a tall glass of wine and braced for the worst—again. However, just before the second act commenced, I uncovered something very, very unexpected; something I secretly never wanted to discover. I enjoy slicing sappy sob stories with a verbal switch blade. In the end, I had to bite my tongue. Sparks had completed a well-connected memoir, and it accomplished what I deemed to be damn near impossible: a smile.

“Three Weeks With My Brother” chronicles Nicholas and his brother Micah’s swift three-week jaunt around the world that starts in Florida, maneuvers to Guatemala and eventually concludes by northern Norway. More than a personal journal, which depicts a vacation to culturally strikingly and exceptional places, “Three Weeks With My Brother” is a glimpse into the blemished and imperfect memories of the Sparks’ brothers childhood that, today, would be considered anything but functional or faultless. Therein lies the reason I liked it.

Their father never hesitated to explode with violence, poverty cloaked their lives, from childhood to adolescence, as both parents struggled to earn a living and to afford simple necessities like milk. For once the devastating tragedies that struck their world were not depicted as beautiful nor were they easily accepted. The photos laced throughout validate this life filled with toil, hardship and real emotion. They also serve as a depiction of Nicholas and Micah as real human beings, proving to readers that Sparks is aware that life consists of more than shiny, happy people.

In essence, “Three Weeks With my Brother” is a story of two journeys: one that travels to exciting places and another that leads brothers back home to rediscover the concept of strength within a family unit. While still a bit wordy, I didn’t feel the need to rinse my mouth out with buckshot. Instead, I found the differences between Nicholas and his brother clearly well-defined. Micah’s attitude centers around a nonchalance that doesn’t involve the church, while Nicholas finds strength in his faith. They are great opposites.

I know, I know. Where’s the hell and high water? The world must be coming to an end because I found it shockingly relatable. I caught myself thinking about the memories I have with my own brother or the lack thereof. Ironically, he is also named Nicholas. We don’t have a close relationship. I’m not entirely certain why, but maybe I’ll send this novel his way and he’ll think of me, too.

In the end, Sparks convincingly revealed true to life situations and characters willing to loose grip with their emotions and sense of reality. He finally submitted to imperfection! Perhaps unknowingly, Sparks also provided a reason why all his novels contain such immaculate consistency. He has seen and experienced a lot of loss. Who can blame him if he wants to live vicariously through a world where it all fades? I’m not throwing him a pity party or excusing his past work. What I am doing is confessing Mr. Rae of Ohio is right. This memoir does give me a bit more respect for Sparks as a writer. I hate to immortalize this in print, but it was enjoyable. Mr. Rae, you found a winner. Now, where shall we all dine in September?

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