THE BEST OF ME is the heart-rending story of two small-town former high school sweethearts from opposite sides of the tracks. Now middle-aged, they've taken wildly divergent paths, but neither has lived the life they imagined . . . and neither can forget the passionate first love that forever altered their world. When they are both called back to their hometown for the funeral of the mentor who once gave them shelter, they will be forced to confront the choices each has made, and ask whether love can truly rewrite the past.The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
I generally steer clear of Nicholas Sparks books. I don't want to read the sad story of someone dying tragically from terminal cancer or the contrived drama. There's enough drama in life already. No, I didn't see or read "The Last Song" but that may have had more to do with the starring actress. So I was hesitant to read this book and I was pleasantly surprised and delighted. I think I missed the subtle wisdom Nicholas Sparks infuses in his books.
What this book offers is articulation of the middle age mind returning to "what if..." If you've never wondered how your life would be if you'd taken a different path, you've not hit middle age yet. He deconstructs the romanticism of first love without destroying it. He also reframes family relationships then subtly uses symbolism to describe the difficult process of accepting reality and describing two broken people. The Stingray represents Dawson, at least in my mind. My favorite quote from the book, I believe comes from Amanda's mother who says, "The grass isn't greener on the other side, it's greener because you water it."
Sparks also provides a glimpse into different coping mechanisms dealing with tragedy. All of the characters experience profound loss in their lives. There is blaming, finger pointing, and pointed accusations but ultimately, those who flourish are the ones that accept the reality and continue to live.
It's a quiet story except for the extreme violence Dawson's kin engage in. Dawson is from the other side of the tracks but doesn't fit in with his criminal family. The attention grabber is that Dawson claims he has been having hallucinations. An apparition of the same man continues to show himself at key moments in Dawson's life that ultimately save it. Dawson doesn't know what to make of it and the paranormal flavor was interesting and mysterious, although not central to the story throughout. It is a key part of the conclusion, however.
Overall, I really loved the wisdom Sparks uses in understanding and articulating the adult developmental stages of middle-age through his characters.