Nicholas Sparks latest novel Two by Two (released in October 2016) sadly does not live up to Sparks’s tear-jerking masterpieces such as The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Safe Haven, etc. Although there are some sparks (pun intended) within the novel that emulate the qualities of the King of Romance’s past novels, Two by Two fails to produce enough to roast a marshmallow. Before I delve into five reasons why you should invest in a different novel like Pride and Prejudice to satisfy your Valentine’s Day need-for-romance craving, here is a brief synopsis of the novel:
Russell Green is a successful advertising executive in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is married, and has a daughter, London, who is only six years old. Russell’s life is seemingly perfect until he finds himself embroiled in a divorce, and struggling to launch his own business while simultaneously caring for his daughter. Russell has the support and love of his sister, Marge, her partner, Liz, and his parents as his life falls apart. He also crosses paths with his ex-college girlfriend, Emily, and they rekindle a relationship that helps Russell deal with his difficult situation. There are tears, there is love, and – in true Sparks form – there is a death.
1. It’s More of a Divorce than Romance Novel
The bulk of the novel deals with Russell’s divorce, and there is just about no romance in this novel whatsoever. This is no exaggeration. Russell and his love interest, SPOILER ALERT Emily, do not kiss – or do anything physical for that matter – until the epilogue. In fact, there is only one sentence dedicated to their intimacy – yes, only one. Russell bitterly laments Vivian’s (his wife) selfishness, verbal abuse, and mood swings throughout the novel, and hardly focuses on Russell and Emily’s relationship. What happened to the King of Romance? Well, Sparks did recently get divorced from his wife, and so it would make sense that his novel is less optimistic about love in general. But… when you claim a book to be a romance novel, and it turns out to be a revenge text against your ex-wife, it makes sense why readers would be less than satisfied.
2. The Main Character is Spineless
Russell allows his ex-wife, his sister, and his daughter to manipulate him in every way, and he never stands up for himself. For example, when his ex-wife continually spends their money like water, he mentions it briefly, and instead of chastising her or entreating her to keep their family’s welfare in mind, he allows her to shame him for attempting to discuss it. I found myself gritting my teeth throughout the novel because he would not stand his ground, and played the victim card way too many times to count.
3. The Story is Repetitive and BORING
Much of the novel consists of Russell describing his daily activities: he runs, takes London to school, works on advertising campaigns, picks London up, takes her to dance, makes dinner, and it starts all over. Look, I don’t mind if a character describes their daily regimen, but he describes it daily. Every chapter – again, this is no exaggeration – is filled with his recounting of his tedious lifestyle. It was very difficult, as a reader, to push through to the end. I kept hoping that the storyline would increase in momentum, and I only was met with disappointment.
4. The Death Does Not Fit with the Story
SPOILER ALERT: Marge, Russell’s sister, is diagnosed with cancer in the latter half of the novel and dies. Of course, it’s tragic, but I had no emotional attachment to the sister at all. She was sarcastic and somewhat mean towards Russell throughout the novel – which he deserved in my opinion – and then Sparks tried to make her out to be a saint after her diagnosis. Sparks, it seems, was trying too hard to elicit an emotional reaction from his audience, and so he used his classic, unfailing cliche as an attempt to do so. Bottom line: it didn’t work.
5. There is No Character Development
A good novel, for me, consists of dynamic characters that change and progress in a positive or negative way – no character in this novel had said progression. Russell remained spineless, Emily continued to justify Russell’s actions, Vivian stayed selfish, etc. Each character remained flat and underdeveloped which is probably the biggest reason why this novel was a flop. If there had been any progression, the novel would have had substance, and it would have actually been more entertaining than watching paint dry.
Yes, my review is harsh, but that’s because I have read Sparks’ other works, and I know he can do better! There were, of course, some redeeming qualities in the novel – the father-daughter relationship, the few dates Emily and Russell went on, the pain initially felt for Russell’s loss of his wife – but the bad definitely outweighed the good. So before you consider picking up this latest Sparksian “romance,” I suggest you opt for a Jane Austen classic instead.