Nicholas Sparks' new novel "The Longest Ride" tells two love stories. One is the love story of Ira Levinson, a Jewish haberdasher in Greensboro, N.C., and his wife, Ruth, who came to North Carolina from Vienna when Hitler's atrocities were merely speculation.
The other story is the budding romance of Luke, a North Carolina rancher and champion bull rider, and Sophia, a Wake Forest art history student who was raised by immigrant parents in New Jersey.
"THE LONGEST RIDE"
By Nicholas Sparks
Grand Central Publishing ($27).
Ira's story is revealed as he is trapped in his car following a skidding accident that results in his car careening over the guardrail and down an embankment.
Wedged in the vehicle with severe injuries, dehydrated and in pain, Ira sees Ruth as she ages and tells of their young courtship, his military service as a flight navigator during WWII, their subsequent marriage, and the heartbreak and devotion that is part of a union that lasts until Ruth's death nine years earlier.
Sophia, a relatively sheltered college sorority girl, is recovering from a bad breakup from the cheating Brian. Her roommate, Marcia, encourages her to attend a bull riding contest nearby. At the party after, Sophia feels Brian's intimidating stare from across the barn, so she moves to an outside ring to collect her thoughts.
Luke is also deep in thought, but that is interrupted by Brian's aggressive moves toward Sophia. Luke intervenes, and he and Sophia begin an easy conversation that develops into an easy relationship. Luke, however, has a secret that relates to his fear of riding a bull named Big Ugly Critter.
Eventually, the secret, and the danger Luke faces become more of an obstacle than the social differences between the cowboy and the college girl, and their relationship falls apart.
When I began reading this book, and knowing my daughters would be familiar with the films, I asked them if this is the same guy who wrote the book that became the movie with James Garner and Ryan Gosling ("The Notebook") and the one with Mandy Moore and Shane West ("A Walk to Remember").
With a groan, they said that yes, Nicholas Sparks is the guy who is responsible for these tear-inducing Sunday afternoon television staples. Mr. Sparks has a fan base, and he knows who it is. In describing his inspiration for the characters, Mr. Sparks wrote, "Sophia was created to resonate with my college-aged fans, and Luke is really the quintessential All-American guy."
To be fair, I am someone who reads a lot of romance novels that range from Debbie Lacombe's "Cedar Cove" series to EL James' "Fifty Shades." I love a good romantic story no matter how well written it is (or not). I have to care about the characters. In "The Longest Ride," I didn't care about either couple.
Of course, Sophia and Luke will have problems. He is a cowboy who labors hard every day of his life. Sophia knows the value of work as a member of a family who owns a small deli, but she is still a college student who exercises her mind more than her body. When Luke's secret is revealed, Sophia reacts as a college student would and ends the relationship.
When Marcia begins to date Brian, she runs to Luke for comfort at her best friend's betrayal. I don't understand running to the new boyfriend over the old boyfriend, or the new boyfriend's understanding sympathy.
Ira and Ruth's story was more compelling for the historical value alone. That they remained married until Ruth's passing is not unusual for that generation. Accepting the fact that they were not going to have children was also not a surprise. That is what married couples did -- loved each other through sickness and health until death parts them.
Again, I wasn't inspired by either of them enough to care, although Ira and Ruth are the best part of "The Longest Ride." Unfortunately, the rest of the book is way too flat to generate the interest and excitement that this storyline could potentially garner.
Lorinda Hayes: email@example.com