I saw this linked off someone’s FB the other day.
Confidential to Nicholas Sparks: A Farewell to Arms is not what you write.
Let’s look at first lines. Sparks, from The Last Song: “Ronnie slouched in the back seat of the car, wondering why on earth her mom and dad hated her so much.” Hemingway, from A Farewell to Arms: “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.”
Leaving aside the question of craft, the biggest difference here is in scope. The Hemingway is the first line of a story that will ask broader questions about humanity and society through the lens of its characters (Henry and Catherine); the sentence basically does just that. We start with the house (aka the personal), then expand outward into a village, a river, the plain, and the mountains: a whole country in miniature. The first line of the Sparks conjures a bratty, self-victimizing teenage girl, stuck in a moving vehicle – a very limited lens, to say the least.
Look. I’m about as egalitarian as it comes, literature-wise. Although the Twilight saga leaves me cold personally, I love that it’s speaking to millions of readers. I think that’s awesome. We should all read more. I feel the same way about Sparks. I will admit to having seen two of his movies (both on cable, not in the theater, she hastens to point out): A Walk to Remember and The Notebook. These are stories designed to evoke emotion, and I admit that I shed a couple tears for each. So mission accomplished.
But what bothers me about the USA Today article is the profound lack of self-awareness Sparks conveys. I understand the (flimsy) distinction he’s trying to make between the romance genre and his general fiction “love stories,” but he does write melodrama. And the defensive tone is ridiculous.
Pull your head out of your ass, man. You are not Hemingway.