“Anything can happen, and that’s the point. What I do know is that I’ve spent the last twenty-four years dreaming of you.” This sentiment, shared in the final pages of Nicholas Sparks’ “Every Breath,” is arguably the most heart-melting line in the romance novelist’s latest project based on a true story.
“Every Breath,” released in October 2018, is Sparks’ 20th fiction novel — he’s written two non-fiction works — in a long line of The New York Times Best Sellers. In the serene coast town of Sunset Beach, North Carolina, the paths of two strangers electrically collide and pose the question, “how long can a dream survive?”
Hope Anderson, a 36-year-old medic, finds herself at a crossroads; she’s forced to attend a wedding without her boyfriend, a man she’s been dating for six years with no wedding plans of her own. Visiting the States for the first time, Tru Walls, a safari guide born and raised in Zimbabwe, flies into town to meet his estranged father.
The two strangers’ meet and are struck by the coincidental encounter. They share their life stories as they become acquainted, and scenes switch between Hope’s life in North Carolina to Tru’s in Africa.
As loyalties and destiny clash, Tru and Hope are forced to make decisions, ones they might regret every waking moment for the rest of their lives.
What sets this romance novel apart from its predecessors is its basis in reality. As he describes in the novel’s prologue, Sparks stumbled across the story of the two lovers at Kindred Spirit, a mailbox in Sunset Beach that belongs to no one and everyone at the same time. Any local or passerby can leave whatever they want at Kindred Spirit — a story, photo, letter, postcard — for others to see and enjoy.
After reading a bundle of letters and seeing photos left by Tru and Hope at Kindred Spirit, Sparks was moved and decided the love story deserved to be told. While romanticized and exaggerated for literary purposes — as Sparks acknowledges in the prologue — it proves seemingly impossible love is actually possible, however rare such occurrences are.
Sparks spent weeks with Tru and Hope prior to crafting his novel — whose names were changed in the book to preserve privacy — and in the prologue, he depicts his time learning about their passionate, roller coaster ride of a love affair. He even traveled to Zimbabwe and wrote he often feels the urge to return.
The romance novelist has a gift for immersing readers into blocks of words. Readers will feel as if they’re strolling along the shores of beaches in North Carolina with Hope or in the blazing heat of Africa bouncing along on a safari tour guided by Tru, witnessing some of life’s most fascinating moments. A pride of lions preying on an elephant; a stampede of rhinoceroses racing by; zebras resting at a watering hole.
The real-life Tru and Hope have their story forever captured in “Every Breath” in special ways, but the novel isn’t without sizable problems.
“Every Breath” is written as if scenes and conversations are variables plugged into a mathematical formula. A boy sees a girl from a distance and after two chance encounters, feelings appear as if out of thin air. The pair is separated, but any reader knows being worlds apart isn’t going to break the chains of love.
A romance novel is successful in large part when the reader can fall in love with its characters. To become engrossed in the novel, feel the emotions of each character and roll with the tidal waves of the plot are the essences of a successful novel, and “Every Breath” lacks something in each department.
The couple’s conversations are dry and dispassionate. Tru speaks in staccato sentences, and Hope’s conversations are often point blank and lack substance. Someone who couldn’t write a love story, let alone a renowned romance novelist, would have likely imagined these conversations.
The characters have great potential, but their emotions are mostly told, not shown.
When divulging the dilemma with her boyfriend, Hope shared deep-rooted sentiments about wanting children. After realizing she shared a lot of personal information, she asks why Tru would care. In his head, he thinks, “Because I care about you,” but instead voices, “Because sometimes, all a person needs is for someone else to listen” — a less revealing answer, making readers think the opposite is true.
Tru is quiet and reserved; he likes to listen before speaking, but his affection for Hope — which readers are made aware of through his thoughts — isn’t evident through his actions. This might be chalked up to poor character development on Sparks’ part rather than Tru’s shyness.
With conversations being as stark as they were, a reader might have trouble becoming attached to characters, because they can’t sympathize with them.
Unlike previous novels, Sparks titled each chapter with a word or two, foreshadowing its content but oftentimes spoiling the upcoming plot, throwing all suspense out the window.
Since Tru and Hope’s conversations didn’t leave much room for daydreaming, the most entertaining figure is probably Hope’s free-spirited dog, a Scottish Terrier named Scottie. All Scottie seems to do is chase after birds, mope when he isn’t taken to the beach and thrive off an energy that can’t be tamed, despite Hope’s efforts to take the dog to obedience school.
The heartwarming story of Tru and Hope’s is one deserving spotlight, but Sparks missed the mark by not livening the pair in the voiced conversations. Instead, readers can walk away with a new item on their bucket lists: the mysterious Kindred Spirit mailbox in Sunset Beach.
“Every Breath” is available at book retailers, including Barnes and Noble and Amazon.