The Notebook

The Notebook

The Notebook/15

I don't answer directly. Instead I say, "I miss her." "I know you do, but I can't let you see her."

"It's our anniversary," I say. This is true. It is one year before gold. Forty-nine years today.

"I see."

"Then I can go?"

She looks away for a moment, and her voice changes. Her voice is softer now, and I am surprised. She has never struck me as the sentimental type.

"Noah, I've worked here for five years and I worked at another home before that. I've seen hundreds of couples struggle with grief and sadness, but I've never seen anyone handle it like you do. No one around here, not the doctors, not the nurses, has ever seen anything like it."

She pauses for just a moment, and strangely, her eyes begin to fill with tears. She wipes them with her finger and goes on:

"I try to think what it's like for you, how you keep going day after day, but I can't even imagine it. I don't know how you do it. You even beat her disease sometimes. Even though the doctors don't understand it, we nurses do. It's love, it's as simple as that. It's the most incredible thing I've ever seen."

A lump has risen in my throat, and I am speechless.

"But Noah, you're not supposed to do this, and I can't let you. So go back to your room." Then, smiling softly and sniffling and shuffling some papers on the desk, she says: "Me, I'm going downstairs for some coffee. I won't be back to check on you for a while, so don't do anything foolish."

She rises quickly, touches my arm, and walks toward the stairs. She doesn't look back, and suddenly I am alone. I don't know what to think. I look at where she had been sitting and see her coffee, a full cup, still steaming, and once again I learn that there are good people in the world.

I am warm for the first time in years as I begin my trek to Allie's room. I take steps the size of Pixie straws, and even at that pace it is dangerous, for my legs have grown tired already. I find I must touch the wall to keep from falling down. Lights buzz overhead, their fluorescent glow making my eyes ache, and I squint a little. I walk by a dozen darkened rooms, rooms where I have read before, and I realize I miss the people inside. They are my friends, whose faces I know so well, and I will see them all tomorrow. But not tonight, for there is no time to stop on this journey. I press on, and the movement forces blood through banished arteries. I feel myself becoming stronger with every step. I hear a door open behind me, but I don't hear footsteps, and I keep going. I am a stranger now. I cannot be stopped. A phone rings in the nurses' station, and I push forward so I will not be caught. I am a midnight bandit, masked and fleeing on horseback from sleepy desert towns, charging into yellow moons with gold dust in my saddlebags. I am young and strong with passion in my heart, and I will break down the door and lift her in my arms and carry her to paradise.

Who am I kidding?

I lead a simple life now. I am foolish, an old man in love, a dreamer who dreams of nothing but reading to Allie and holding her whenever I can. I am a sinner with many faults and a man who believes in magic, but I am too old to change and too old to care.

When I finally reach her room my body is weak. My legs wobble, my eyes are blurred, and my heart is beating funny inside my chest. I struggle with the knob, and in the end it takes two hands and three truckloads of effort. The door opens and light from the hallway spills in, illuminating the bed where she sleeps. I think, as I see her, I am nothing but a passerby on a busy city street, forgotten forever.

Her room is quiet, and she is lying with the covers halfway up. After a moment I see her roll to one side, and her noises bring back memories of happier times. She looks small in her bed, and as I watch her I know it is over between us. The air is stale and I shiver. This place has become our tomb.

I do not move, on this our anniversary, for almost a minute, and I long to tell her how I feel, but I stay quiet so I won't wake her. Besides, it is written on the slip of paper that I will slide under her pillow. It says:

Love, in these last and tender hours is sensitive and very pure

Come morning light with soft-lit powers to awaken love that's ever sure.

I think I hear someone coming, so I enter her room and close the door behind me. Blackness descends and I cross her floor from memory and reach the window. I open the curtains, and the moon stares back, large and full, the guardian of the evening. I turn to Allie and dream a thousand dreams, and though I know I should not, I sit on her bed while I slip the note beneath her pillow. Then I reach across and gently touch her face, soft like powder. I stroke her hair, and my breath is taken away. I feel wonder, I feel awe, like a composer first discovering the works of Mozart. She stirs and opens her eyes, squinting softly, and I suddenly regret my foolishness, for I know she will begin to cry and scream, for this is what she always does. I am impulsive and weak, this I know, but I feel an urge to attempt the impossible and I lean toward her, our faces drawing closer.

And when her lips meet mine, I feel a strange tingling I have never felt before, in all our years together, but I do not pull back. And suddenly, a miracle, for I feel her mouth open and I discover a forgotten paradise, unchanged all this time, ageless like the stars. I feel the warmth of her body, and as our tongues meet, I allow myself to slip away, as I had so many years ago. I close my eyes and become a mighty ship in churning waters, strong and fearless, and she is my sails. I gently trace the outline of her cheek, then take her hand in mine. I kiss her lips, her cheeks, and listen as she takes a breath. She murmurs softly, "Oh, Noah . . . I've missed you." Another miracle--the greatest of all!--and there's no way I can stop the tears as we begin to slip toward heaven itself. For at that moment, the world is full of wonder as I feel her fingers reach for the buttons on my shirt and slowly, ever so slowly, she begins to undo them one by one.

Reading Group Guide

A Q & A with Nicholas Sparks

Q. What is the inspiration for this book? Is it based to any extent on your own experiences or the experiences of those you know?

A. The Notebook was originally inspired by the story of my wife's beloved grandparents. They had a truly magical relationship, one that withstood the test of time and circumstance. At the time I'd met them, they had been married for over sixty years and I remember marveling at how much they still seemed to care for each other. The Notebook attempts to describe such a love.

With that said, The Notebook is a novel, not a memoir. Many changes were made regarding their story, in order to make the novel more universal, while staying committed to my original intent.

Q. How do you account for the success of your novel? What do you think its overriding appeal is?

A. It's never simple to pinpoint the reasons for a book's success. In the case of The Notebook, I think the most obvious reason is that the story touched people in a deeply personal way. It seems that nearly everyone I spoke with about the novel knew a "Noah and Allie" in their own life. As people made this connection, the book became a so-called "word of mouth" success, with those who enjoyed it recommending it to others. In the end, any book that sells well needs to have this sort of support from readers.

On a more practical level, the novel's short length was appealing to many people. Nowadays, we all seem to have less time to read and The Notebook probably owes much of its success to the fact that people could finish it in one or two sittings. I think that readers also appreciated that the novel did not include foul language and its love scene was tasteful and mild compared to what's found in many other novels. These factors made people feel comfortable about recommending it to others.

Finally, I can't ignore the fact that the publisher did an outstanding job with the novel. It was well promoted, it had a beautiful cover, and it was enthusiastically supported by the sales representatives. In addition, I was sent on a fifty-city tour (unusually large, by the way) and that also helped get the word out.

Q. The Notebook is an intensely romantic book--a novel about the everlasting power of "true love." Do you believe that this kind of love exists in real life?

A. Yes, absolutely. True love exists and there's evidence of it every day. I think talking about romantic love, however, is similar to talking about schools for children. It seems that most people feel that the school their child goes to is wonderful, but elsewhere, schools are terrible. But if most people feel that way, then it becomes a contradiction. Same thing with romantic love. People feel it in their own lives, but doubt if other people do. And those who don't have it hope that someday they will. I think The Notebook tapped into that feeling.

Q. The Notebook takes place in a small southern town. Why did you choose that setting rather than, say, a big city like New York?

A. I live in a small southern town, and life there is different than in a big city. Last night, for instance, a friend of mine got hurt. Instead of bringing him to the hospital or an urgent care clinic, I took him to the doctor's house. The doctor took care of him, then drove to the office to pick up a temporary cast, returned, and then bandaged him up. No charge, by the way.

Small towns feed into a nostalgia that people have for the way things used to be. Simpler, less rushed, more community oriented, things like that.

Q. The book details the lives of very old, as well as very young, people. How did someone as young as yourself acquire the insight to write about the experience of being old in such a moving way?

A. That's what writers strive to do. Though I can't describe the process of writing and how I do it (I don't really understand where my ideas come from), I do keep a few general rules in mind, no matter what type of character I'm writing.

First, I tend to assume that most people-- male or female, young or old--have largely the same types of thoughts. However, the difference lies in their perspective. So I try to put myself in their shoes and see the world the way they do. Then, I read constantly and see how other authors have written from varying perspectives, and I try to figure out whether they accomplished what they'd set out to do, or if they failed. Either way, I ask myself, "Why?" Finally, I work hard at it--I edit constantly, until it "feels right" to me. Only then will I accept it.

Q. Letter writing plays such a big part in The Notebook. Is there something about letter writing that intrigues you?

A. The epistolary form of writing has been around for centuries, of course. I'm neither the first nor the finest to use it. But letters are a wonderful vehicle for writing, if used effectively and sparingly. In the case of a novel written primarily in third person, for instance, a letter might allow for deeper insight, since a letter is written in first person.

Also, I'm fond of letter writing myself. Call it old-fashioned, but that's how my wife and I fell in love. We lived a thousand miles apart in the early stages of our relationship, and I used to write her every day. She's told me often that it was the most romantic thing that had ever been done for her.

Q. How has the success of The Notebook affected your life? Do you find that your family lifestyle has changed much? Or your values?

A. The success has been wonderful. It's enabled me to concentrate on writing full-time, but more than that, it's allowed me to spend far more time with my family. Financially, of course, there's been a change as well and it would be dishonest of me to overlook that.

But other than that, our lifestyle is still largely unchanged. I coach soccer for my sons' teams, we go to church every Sunday, we're in a "Supper Club" with the same people we knew before, my wife volunteers at the school like every other mom, we still eat Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Nor have our values changed. We worry about the same things all parents do, and we're doing our best to raise kind and confident children. Our relationship with each other, with our children, with our community, and with God will always be the most important things in our lives.

Q. What was it like going on your author tour and meeting and hearing from so many people whose lives were affected by your book?

A. That was truly wonderful. Writing is communication; so is talking to readers about their impressions of the novel. It's one of the aspects I most enjoy about being an author.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

A. My advice is four-fold. First, read as much as possible. Read all types of novels--don't limit yourself to one genre. Each genre seems to have its own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, "techno-thrillers" are very good at describing action, not so good at describing romance or love. Romance novels are just the opposite.

Second, learn as much as you can about publishing. Learn how it works, how to get published, how to market your book, what editors look for, etc. There's a wealth of information in any bookstore and it's important to understand the business aspects of writing. Publishing is, after all, a business.

Third, have realistic goals for the type of writer you want to be. For instance, is your goal to sell a million hardcover copies of your novel? If so, you need to understand the conventions of so-called "commercial fiction." Or is your goal simply to get published? If so, write what you want, but write it well.

And finally, write. You can't be a writer without writing.

Discussion Questions

1. At one point in the novel Gus says to Noah, "My daddy used to tell me 'the first time you fall in love, it changes your life forever, and no matter how hard you try, the feelin' never goes away. This girl you been tellin' me about was your first love. And no matter what you do, she'll stay with you forever.' " Do you think this is true? Can you still remember your first love?

2. The restored house Noah lives in plays an integral role in the novel. In fact, an article about the restoration is what draws Allie back to New Bern. What do you think the house represents? What does this say about the importance of place? Does Noah restore anything else in this novel?

3. When Allie decides to come down to see Noah "one last time," do you think she wanted to see him just to say good-bye, or was she secretly hoping to fall in love with him again? Was it right for Allie, who had already agreed to marry Lon, to make this visit? Would your answer be different if she were already married?

4. When asked by her mother, Allie claims to love both Noah and Lon. Do you think this is true? While it is possible to love more than one person equally, is it possible to be in love with two people at the same time?

5. Allie's mother regrets having hid Noah's letters to Allie for so many years. Why does Allie's mother change her mind, especially when Allie's wedding is less than three weeks away? Can you understand Allie's mother's motivation for hiding the letters in the first place? As a parent, wasn't she responsible for watching out for her daughter?

6. Were you at all surprised when it is revealed that Allie had decided to marry Noah, or was there never any question in your mind?

7. Noah and Allie's love for each other at the end of the novel seems as pure and as powerful as it was in the beginning. Is it possible for the intensity of first love to last that long? Is it unrealistic to expect it to?

8. Although he's not in the best shape himself, Noah goes to Allie's bedside and reads "The Notebook" to her every day. As a result, Allie is in much better shape than the other Alzheimer's patients. Do you think this is plausible? Is her stable health a result of her hearing the story of her life every day, or are there greater forces at work? What does Noah's devotion suggest about marriage? About the nature of love itself ?

9. The letters Noah and Allie write to each other, the poems they share, "The Notebook" Noah reads to Allie every day are all integral parts of this novel. And during World War II, a book of poetry actually saves Noah's life. What does this suggest about the power of the written word? Why is this power such an important part of The Notebook?

10. The Notebook has been a bestseller not only in America, but around the world. Why do you think this is? What is it about the book that speaks to such a broad range of people?

Nicholas Sparks on Nicholas Sparks

I was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on New Year's Eve, a scant eighty minutes prior to 1966. As fate would have it, my father was a bartender at the time and was scheduled to work that night, usually the busiest night of the year. Short on tip money but long on pride, he demanded the finest obstetrician in Omaha, and I was brought into this world for $124, which covered not only my care, but two days in the hospital for my mother.

I led a largely nomadic life in the beginning--my father was still a student, working to get into a master's program, and he was eventually accepted at the University of Minnesota. I spent two years there and my memory of the place is limited. I had a dog named Pepper, a cardboard-box train I liked to sit in, and I remember picking bugs off the grill of the moving van when we finally left for Los Angeles in the summer of 1969.

Los Angeles--my home for four years while my father went to the University of Southern California for his Ph.D.--is also fairly shadowy. I remember getting hit in the head with a brick thrown by an eighteen-year-old thug, I learned to ride a bike (losing only one tooth in the process), and unfortunately my pet turtle committed suicide by diving off our second-floor patio. In 1973, I went to Grand Island, Nebraska, for a year with my mom (and brother and sister) while my dad did his thesis, then we all returned to Fair Oaks, California, on December 1, 1974. I remember very clearly that Kolchack, the Night Stalker was on television the moment we arrived at our new house. Perhaps that's why I seem to associate Darrin Mc-Gavin with my adopted hometown.

I survived elementary school, that's the best way to describe it. My first teacher had flaming red hair; a big, round face; and a fondness for Nile green evening dresses that draped her rather large body. I flunked English, but since my paper-mache volcano spewed purple lava (baking soda, vinegar, and food coloring), my creativity was deemed impressive and I was allowed to continue up the educational ladder.

High school was better. For some reason, my brain kicked in when I was fourteen, and I never received a grade lower than an A. I ended up as the valedictorian, but I couldn't give the commencement address. I was due in Los Angeles (again) for the state track meet. I hold a number of school records at my high s