By D.G. Martin
Chapel Hill, NC – What do President Donald Trump and the lead character of Nicholas Sparks’ latest book have in common?
Hint: Walter Reed Medical Center.
Both the president and Trevor Benson, the fictional main character in Sparks’ “The Return,” received critically important treatment at Walter Reed.
Trump got expert medical care for his coronavirus.
Benson, a Navy surgeon, had his body and mind blown apart in Afghanistan. Serious head injuries, loss of sight in one eye, loss of an ear, damage to his back, and for a surgeon, the career-ending loss of fingers. These injuries plus a heavy dose of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) made Benson a total wreck.
The doctors at Walter Reed and nearby Johns Hopkins put him back together again. Their great psychiatric care moved him to become a psychiatrist himself.
How then is Sparks going to use Benson as the lead in one of his heart-rending romances?
Maybe you remember Sparks’ formula for his books that have sold more than 100 million copies. He creates two characters, a man and a woman, brings them together, then something separates them, and somehow they are brought back together, bringing tears to Sparks’ readers.
First, Sparks gets Trevor to New Bern. Although Trevor grew up in Washington, D.C., he spent youthful summers with his grandfather who lived happily in his self-built modest house, taking his jerry-rigged boat out for trips on Brice’s Creek and tending his hives of honeybees.
When his grandfather dies, Trevor comes back to check on his grandfather’s property and decides to stay while he is waiting to begin a residency in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins.
When an attractive female sheriff’s deputy named Natalie stops by to check on the grandfather’s house, she finds Trevor, and Sparks’ magic romance begins.
Trevor is smitten, but Natalie is reserved and inexplicably seems not to want to be seen publicly with him.
He takes her on a boat ride along Brice’s Creek where he shows her baby alligators and a nest of bald eaglets. Then he gives her an inside tour of his grandfather’s honeybee operation, with a sensitive explanation of how the bees work together in different roles to build their hives and sustain their communities.
Natalie is hooked, Trevor is happy, and the story seems to be over even though we are only half through the book.
Sparks is not through with them. To follow his formula, something has to separate them. So, suddenly, Natalie tells Trevor she has to break away and that their romance is impossible. When she explains why, he understands and sadly moves on. Then Sparks gives him another challenge to solve: Callie, a teenaged girl who lives alone in a nearby trailer court had helped Trevor’s grandfather with his bees.
Just before he died, the grandfather gave Trevor muddled instructions to help Callie. Callie does not want help, but when it becomes a life and death matter, Trevor rushes to help. Without reconstructing their romance, Natalie helps him solve Callie’s mystery and save her life.
The story ends.
But Sparks has not followed his formula. He brought Natalie and Trevor together and then set them apart. But he has not reunited them. At the end of the book’s last chapter, Trevor is in Baltimore to begin a psychiatric residence at Johns Hopkins. He reads a letter from Natalie. She thanks him for his love, but begs him never to contact her again. Sadly, Sparks does not bring his lovers back together this time.
Wait. The book has an epilogue. Maybe Sparks could complete his formula there, but you will have to read it to find out for sure.
Visit North Carolina, the state’s tourism promotion office, should put Sparks on its payroll. His descriptions of the charms of downtown New Bern and the beauty of Brice’s Creek made me want to close the book and rush to spend a few days there.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” Sunday 3:30 pm and Tuesday at 5 pm on UNC-TV. The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesday at 8 pm and other times.
To view prior programs: video.unctv.org/show/nc-bookwatch/episodes/
UNC-Chapel Hill religion professor Bart Ehrman’s “Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife” deals with this dilemma. (Oct 11, 13)
“Step It Up and Go, The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, from Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk,” (Oct 18, 20)