Sparks (The Longest Ride, 2013, etc.) serves up another heaping helping of sentimental Southern bodice-rippage.
Gone are the blondes of yore, but otherwise the Sparks-ian formula is the same: a decent fellow from a good family who’s gone through some rough patches falls in love with a decent girl from a good family who’s gone through some rough patches—and is still suffering the consequences. The guy is innately intelligent but too quick to throw a punch, the girl beautiful and scary smart. If you hold a fatalistic worldview, then you’ll know that a love between them can end only in tears. If you hold a Sparks-ian one, then true love will prevail, though not without a fight. Voilà: plug in the character names, and off the story goes. In this case, Colin Hancock is the misunderstood lad who’s decided to reform his hard-knuckle ways but just can’t keep himself from connecting fist to face from time to time. Maria Sanchez is the dedicated lawyer in harm’s way—and not just because her boss is a masher. Simple enough. All Colin has to do is punch the partner’s lights out: “The sexual harassment was bad enough, but Ken was a bully as well, and Colin knew from his own experience that people like that didn’t stop abusing their power unless someone made them. Or put the fear of God into them.” No? No, because bound up in Maria’s story, wrinkled with the doings of an equally comely sister, there’s a stalker and a closet full of skeletons. Add Colin’s back story, and there’s a perfect couple in need of constant therapy, as well as a menacing cop. Get Colin and Maria to smooching, and the plot thickens as the storylines entangle. Forget about love—can they survive the evil that awaits them out in the kudzu-choked woods?
More of the same: Sparks has his recipe, and not a bit of it is missing here. It’s the literary equivalent of high fructose corn syrup, stickily sweet but irresistible.