As my regular readers probably noticed, Iâ€™ve been reading Dear John by Nicholas Sparks, primarily because I was asked to review it, and the basic synopsis sounded interesting. Coming into it, I suspected Iâ€™d find the sort of, ah, quality of literature often produced by the reigning kings on the best seller lists. He actually did fairly well in that department, all considering. Most of the questionable literary devices only a trained eye would notice or care about.
While book could have benefited from another round of editing, I understand the temptation publishers have to skip that and rush an author to press when they know the book will sell on the authorâ€™s name alone regardless. It is a double standardâ€”an unknown author would be rejected if they turned in a novel with a prologue and an epilogue written in present tense, and a chapter worth of back story before beginning the actual story in chapter two.
Still, authors like Sparks have gained the trust of their publisher and their fans and such trust covers a multitude of editorial â€œsins.â€ Honestly,Â though, I doubt the wisdom ofÂ beginning your book with roughly twenty five pages ofÂ monologue, written in blocks of text of that sometimes take up an entire page,Â and part of it in a tense many readers despise even when an author knows how to do it right, as Sparks seems to. Indeed, his vivid sense of detail and voice made it work, except for the minor issue that the narrator, John, repeats most of what we learn in chapter one to his leading lady no later than we really needed to know those details. Iâ€™ll grant him a pass on this, though, as many authors at his level are under contract and working up against a tight deadline. Weâ€™ll see if his fans do the same.
If they manage to plow through the first twenty five pages, I imagine his hard-core fans certainly will. The book is saturated with movie-quality descriptive images, almost, but not quite, to the point of being too much. That and a talent for bringing characters to life are certainly the book’s redeeming qualities.
Dear John doesnâ€™t show much understanding of redemption, though. Sparks chose to make the leading lady a regular at church, Savannah even talks the nonreligious narrator into attending a couple times. Johnâ€™s monologue also reads a lot like a testimony of someoneâ€™s wild days before the savior turned them aroundâ€”only Johnâ€™s â€œsaviorâ€ is the US Army, not Jesus. Personally, this makes me cringe, as the last thing we need is people looking to the government to save them.
On the bright side, John is more loyal to the Army than some who profess Christ, John and Savannah make it fifty pages without kissing, and a hundred without ending up in the sack. ButÂ that they eventually doâ€”and neither ever admits any wrong doingâ€”shows no respect for biblical morality, and the characters consistently make remarks that reinforce this sense of disrespect.
In a way, the story shows why premarital sex is wrongâ€”Sparks is upfront, maybe too upfront for some readers, that they donâ€™t marryâ€”and an illustration of all the things one shouldnâ€™t do in a relationship, and shows why it is imperative we know more scripture than one bible verse taken out of context, and side with the bible in calling immoral acts wrongâ€”lest we fall and do likewise.
I donâ€™t get the impression this was intentional, but Iâ€™m almost glad of that. I know fellow writers who profess the name of Christ who have decided to write basically secular fiction with a subtle Christian worldview, perhaps by throwing in a church-goer, but I hope this is not what they had in mind, nor what this author intended. When it comes to love, faith, and morality, the characters, if not the author, clearly speak of things they lack understanding of, at least not of the truth.
Unlike what the characters in this story understand, true love is not a feeling, but a until-death-do-you- part commitment. The only time John shows any real love is the sacrifice he makes at the end of the story. Without the commitment only found in marriage, what they shared together was a terrible lie and deception, one that stole two gifts intended for Savannahâ€™s future husband aloneâ€”meaning a piece of her heart as well as her virginity. The results that play out almost destroy her marriage.
In real life, based on her refusal to repent, their sin also would cut off her relationship with God, if she actually had one to begin with, which is unclear. If she did, she wouldâ€™ve had no business dating a non-Christian in the first place and someone should have told her so, like the nice young man from church who happened to also be in love with her.
Granted, weâ€™re in Johnâ€™s point of view and such a conversation would not be held in front of him, but no bible-believing Christian would ever support their relationship the way Savannahâ€™s friend is shown to.Â Indeed, if the young man truly loved Savannah, and truly loved the Lord, he would have felt an obligation to speak the truth and do what he could to pull her back from inevitable disaster.
While in general the characterization is dead on, not a single character that is supposed to be a Christian speaks or acts like a true believer, more like whitewashed tombs (caricatures or hypocrites if you prefer.)
Still, if biblical morality or a proper understanding of the faith doesnâ€™t concern a reader, this is definitely an enjoyable read and relatively well writtenâ€”considering the temptation at Sparksâ€™ level to rest on his laurels and that he may not have had adequate time for revisionâ€”but itâ€™s also a read I cannot recommend.
If youâ€™re a big fan and just have to read it, or donâ€™t give a twig about the bible and Christianity, I do have one suggestion. Unless huge blocks of text are your idea of an easy read, start in chapter two or the last page or two of chapter one. You can go back and re-read the monologue when itâ€™s summarized over if youâ€™re interested. But if youâ€™re thinking of reading this for an on-the-ground novelization of a soldierâ€™s experience of the war in Iraq, I must warn that youâ€™ll be disappointed. Iraq and 9/11 are not as central to the plot as one might think and are summarized over as well.
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