Author: Nicholas Sparks
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publish Date: September 17th, 2013
Genres: Adult, Fiction, Romance
Ira Levinson is in trouble. At ninety-one years old, in poor health and alone in the world, he finds himself stranded on an isolated embankment after a car crash. Suffering multiple injuries, he struggles to retain consciousness until a blurry image materializes and comes into focus beside him: his beloved wife Ruth, who passed away nine years ago. Urging him to hang on, she forces him to remain alert by recounting the stories of their lifetime together – how they met, the precious paintings they collected together, the dark days of WWII and its effect on them and their families. Ira knows that Ruth can’t possibly be in the car with him, but he clings to her words and his memories, reliving the sorrows and everyday joys that defined their marriage.
A few miles away, at a local rodeo, a Wake Forest College senior’s life is about to change. Recovering from a recent break-up, Sophia Danko meets a young cowboy named Luke, who bears little resemblance to the privileged frat boys she has encountered at school. Through Luke, Sophia is introduced to a world in which the stakes of survival and success, ruin and reward — even life and death – loom large in everyday life. As she and Luke fall in love, Sophia finds herself imagining a future far removed from her plans — a future that Luke has the power to rewrite . . . if the secret he’s keeping doesn’t destroy it first.
Ira and Ruth. Sophia and Luke. Two couples who have little in common, and who are separated by years and experience. Yet their lives will converge with unexpected poignancy, reminding us all that even the most difficult decisions can yield extraordinary journeys: beyond despair, beyond death, to the farthest reaches of the human heart.
The plot became a bit tedious at times – it definitely had its ups and downs. The book started off slowly and the plot didn’t begin to develop until approximately 1/4 of the way through the book. I really enjoyed the parallel narratives, though, particularly at the very beginning and end of the novel. I loved having the opportunity to see things from the perspectives of both of the main characters, rather than being limited solely to an overly-dramatic and hormonal sorority girl or moody and standoffish (yet unable to accomplish any wrong, whatsoever) cowboy. While both scenarios would have had their obvious perks and pitfalls, I think Sparks made the right decision for the portrayal of this particular tale.
Sophia, astonishingly, was not the stereotypical sorority member who completely rearranged her life so that it revolved around the sorority and became attached at the hip with every single one of her sisters. In fact, Sophia didn’t seem to buy into the concept of a sorority whatsoever, wanting to be involved in other actvities and to meet and befriend people outside of the sorority. While she may not have had the best choice in boyfriends prior to the start of the novel (her ex cheated on her three times…THREE!), she seemed to learn from her mistakes, picking herself back up again and refusing to admit defeat. While many of her characteristics were certainly admirable, she didn’t possess the best common sense and often acted on instinct, flying off the handle at the most minor prevocations. Her reactions often seemed overly-dramatic and defensive, even before she had a decent grasp on the situation at hand. Nevertheless, she served as a foil for Luke, and the two seemed to balance each other out perfectly.
Luke read like a book – all of his emotions were clearly laid out and his thoughts and motives were always exposed, which was both good and bad. Nowadays, it’s rare to read about an individual who is so trusting of those around him that he doesn’t feel the need to put up a facade and hide his own inner turmoil. Luke wasn’t concerned about upholding his manliness or proving himself to those around him – every risk he took and hardship that he endured was for the benefit of loved ones. Luke was willing to give all of himself for absolutely nothing in return. He was also hard-working, determined, and perseverant, not to mention the perfect gentleman (hint, hint!).
I loved the romance that developed between Sophia and Luke – it started off slowly, not with a somewhat creepy and boarderline stalkerish infatuation between the two. They actually took the opportunity to get to know one another before rushing headlong into a relationship that had every potential to crash and burn in the blink of an eye. Like every couple, they had their disputes and experienced tension in their relationship, making it both relatable and realistic. They werent the “perfect,” ideal couple, and they never pretended to be, admitting that each had his/her own faults and attempting to help one another overcome these.
While I loved Sophia and Luke’s relationship, I wasn’t overwhelmed by that of Ira and Ruth, which served as the basis for the second narrative. After driving his car off an icy cliff and totalling it in a snow/ice bank, Ira remains barely conscience, suffering from multiple injuries. As he bides his time, he recounts stories of Ruth, the love of his life. He goes back in time, recalling the first time the two of them met, their adventures while dating, and, ultimately, tales from their lengthy marriage. In the midst of reliving these memories, Ira continually wonders if he will be joining his beloved wife in heaven or if he will be pulled from the car alive by some kindly soul who manages to stumble upon iit in the ongoing storm. While some of the anecdotes were cute, bringing a smile to my face, I found Ira’s narration to be the most boring and tended to skim these sections. Ira also had a very different perspective on love and relationships than Sophia and Luke due to his years of wisdom and experience, so he seemed to serve more of a grandfatherly, advice-giving role that was intended to invoke reader sympathy, rather than an individual who was more relatable. Therefore, without a doubt, I definitely preferred reading about Sophia and Luke, but this was just my personally preference!
Having lived on a farm, I appreciated the uncommon rural setting and bull-rider premise. Novels so rarely capture a glimpse of country life, so this was a refreshing read. And, without a doubt, there are far too few attractive cowboys gracing the pages of fiction novels. Surprisingly, The Longest Ride was devoid of the typical butchery of horseback riding that is all too common in modern day literature – someone actually did their research! (as you can tell, this is a bit of a touchy subject for me – The Longest Ride definitely won brownie points for its accuracy in this department).
I’m far from a Nicholas Sparks expert – this only the second book of his that I’ve read, although I’ve seen several movie adaptations of his works – but I find the majority of his work to be predictable. Everything seems to fall into place a little too perfectly, everyone is in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. The stars were overly aligned to make these “coincidences” completely overlookable (and I think I’m starting to make up my own words).
Overall, I think The Longest Ride was a great way to kick off the summer – it was fun, quirky, and, of course, romantic. I would definitely recommend it, particularly if you’re just starting off the summer!