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Nicholas Sparks: The Master of Catharsis

Gabriela Leskur | Thursday, February 14, 2013


Three generations of women huddled in front of the TV in a small living room, sobbing like there was no tomorrow. As my mom and grandma wept on, I paused for a moment and cursed the man behind this story – darn you, Notre Dame alum Nicholas Sparks, and your films. I was perfectly content not being in touch with my emotions, thank you.

 I still remember when I finally watched “The Notebook” in 2011. I knew I was arriving a little late to the party – people of both the male and female persuasion had been telling me to watch it since the days when instant messaging was the latest trend and my email address was [email protected].

Although at first I was impressed by Nicholas Sparks’ work, I realized that he was far from a one hit wonder. As a standalone story, I had lauded “The Notebook.” However, as “The Last Song,” “Dear John” and “A Walk to Remember” swirled around my lovesick head, I suddenly realized this Sparks guy has a monopoly on sappy romance stories.

What is it that makes Nicholas Sparks’ romances stand out? Why do we keep coming back to read and watch them?

Like an investigative reporter, I was set on getting to the bottom of the Sparks romance formula.

Imagine me on a Thursday night, reviewing the evidence: On the TV “A Walk to Remember” blares, on my Mac plays “The Last Song,” on my friend’s old, nearly dead Toshiba rings “Dear John” and still hanging out in my head is “The Notebook.”

As any typical sleuth would, I examined these movies carefully to find out exactly what makes a Nicholas Sparks love story tick. After years of intense preparation, I feel as if I gathered enough evidence to present my findings.


What You Watch/Read

            Assume whatever new couple graces the pages of a Nicholas Sparks novel will be made up of two B-list Hollywood stars.

            These two hotties will have lots of baggage – I’m talking two huge suitcases and a carry-on.

Ten minutes in, they will begin to unpack said metaphorical baggage onto each other. But boy, love is not easy.

            Slowly but surely though, the couple overcomes all these pesky obstacles. Love prevails. You get that same feeling as when you watch cute kitten videos on YouTube; I believe it’s called happiness.

            Then BAM! Tragedy strikes. Someone – dad, spouse or friend – usually gets a fatal disease and dies.

            You didn’t see that one coming. I mean, unless you’ve seen a Nicholas Sparks film before.


Why You Watch It

            Everyone loves a love story. Even us cynics who spent Valentine’s Day shut up in our room reading Herodotus and folding laundry melt from the cuteness when Phil and Claire Dunphy share a tender moment. That’s true “Modern Family” love right there, folks.

            Yet, what makes Nicholas Sparks novels and their subsequent films stand out is how they end. No happy endings in the novels of this Notre Dame grad. And this is where the true genius of Nicholas Sparks comes in.

            Sparks plays up on the idea of catharsis, the traditional notion from Greek tragedy. Catharsis, in the classical sense, relies on a heartbreaking event in an attempt to let out all the suppressed emotions in the audience.

For example, we walk into a Nicholas Sparks movie stressed about midterms, sans PW carnations, feeling a little down in the dumps. However, we walk out thinking, “That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen,” wipe away a tear, and then smile. You realize, “Hey, my life really isn’t that bad.”

The day looks a little brighter. Homework seems more manageable. You feel refreshed and ready for another date night at the library with your study guides. For this renewed pep in your step, you can thank catharsis – and Nichols Sparks.



His Latest Flick

 “Safe Haven” is the latest Nicholas Sparks film to open in theaters. If you’re looking to leave all your Valentine’s Day woes behind or if you’re just looking for some good catharsis, then “Safe Haven” is a good choice. But if you’re thinking of going to this film for a surprising original romance, I’m guessing that perhaps you should check out “Silver Linings Playbook” instead.