Thursday, March 18, 2010

Nicholas Sparks is lying to himself

Who is Nicholas Sparks kidding?

During his co-interview with Miley Cyrus for USA Today, Sparks claims to be from the lineage of Ernest Hemingway and slams Cormac McCarthy.

He also says his favorite coming-of-age story is A Walk to Remember, which he wrote.

Let’s begin by noting what Sparks got right.

“I don’t write romance novels.” His preferred terminology: “Love stories — it’s a very different genre ... (Romances) are all essentially the same story: You’ve got a woman, she’s down on her luck, she meets the handsome stranger who falls desperately in love with her, but he’s got these quirks, she must change him, and they have their conflicts, and then they end up happily ever after.”

Sparks wants to differentiate himself from the writers of bodice rippers. Fair enough. Sparks doesn’t churn out almost identical variations on a single plot. Sure, he has key themes that he revisits — death, love — but all authors do.

OK, score one for Nicholas Sparks. But things soon veer off the rails. First, he compares himself to Hemingway.

A Farewell to Arms, by Hemingway. Good stuff. That’s what I write,” (Sparks) says. “That’s what I write.”

Then, he takes a shot at McCarthy.

“Horrible,” he says, looking at Blood Meridian. “This is probably the most pulpy, overwrought, melodramatic cowboy vs. Indians story ever written.”

Finally, Sparks calls A Walk to Remember his favorite tale of youth, though he credits The Catcher in the Rye as “an all-time classic.” (Bonus fact: Miley Cyrus’s favorite book is Catcher. Vegas odds on that — 1.001:1. Just once I want to hear a 17-year-old say their favorite book is Tess of the d’Urbervilles.)

I’ve never read Blood Meridian, so I can’t criticize Sparks’s opinion. He may be right, and I wouldn’t defend McCarthy just because of his reputation. Writers are entitled to their opinions. If those opinion are iconoclastic, so be it. McCarthy previously criticized Henry James and Marcel Proust by saying, “To me, that’s not literature.”

However, I have read A Farewell to Arms. I’ve also read A Walk to Remember. And, no, Mr. Sparks, that is not what you do. That is what you try to do. I admire Gay Talese and aspire to write like him. That doesn’t mean we do the same thing.

If anything, Sparks seems resentful that his commercial success has cost him critical acceptance. If true, I understand the resentment. Sparks should not be lumped in with Harlequin novelists. But, if he wants critical accolades, he would be better off not insulting Pulitzer winners or writing Miley Cyrus vehicles.

-Jason Lea,

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