Bestselling author Nicholas Sparks published Safe Haven in 2010, and it’s been sitting on my bookshelf since then, waiting rather patiently to be read. I have to be in the right mood to read a Sparks novel, of which there are a multitude. They’re generally formulaic (strong male character, often with a military background; love interest, complications, resolution), strong on romance, and easy to read. I waited so long to read it that they already made a movie of it in 2013.
The mood – one usually characterized by the need to indulge in some escapism – finally came upon me, and I pulled it from the shelf. Yes, it fits the formula, although this one had a twist. Sparks isn’t known as a suspense novelist, but Safe Haven has a strong dose of it.
Young father and widower Alex Wheatley runs a small general store in coastal Southport, North Carolina. His beloved wife Carly has been dead for two years, and while he’s managing to raise his son and daughter, he’s still dealing with grief, loneliness and emotional pain. And then one day, in walks Katie Feldman, new to town and working as a waitress in a local diner. She seems to spend most of her time trying to ignore Alex while she spends rather meagerly on food.
Alex is interested. Katie seems to be not. We know where this is going, we think.
Katie has a secret. Actually, she has several secrets. Katie is not her real name. She’s married. She’s the victim of wife abuse. She’s finally managed to run away from her husband, but she knows he will find her. She knows because his job is a police detective.
At first, she’s only able to confide to a new neighbor, Jo, who’s a counselor and, we’re led to believe, has counseled Alex in his grief. She certainly seems to know a lot about Alex, and she’s encouraging Katie to develop a relationship with him. Jo and Katie live in houses that sit by themselves on an isolated road.
Sparks weaves the recent past and present together, carefully building toward what we know will be a confrontation and climax. Safe Haven is a good story, although the resolution of the character of Jo is unexpected and problematic. But the novel follows the author’s successful formula, and it definitely satisfies the need to escape.
Photograph by Andrew Schmidt via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.