The intense yet short-lived romance in Nicholas Sparks' novel "Nights in Rodanthe" immediately recalls a similar fictional affair in Madison County, Iowa.
"Nights" is reminiscent of Robert James Waller's "The Bridges of Madison County" and contains similar elements: a romantically uninvolved middle-aged mother; a single, middle-aged man who doesn't mind cooking; and children who have something to learn about their mother not as a mother but as a woman.
And it offers a story that is just as passionate and memorable.
Sparks introduces Adrienne as someone who "still held tight to the belief that love was the essence of a full and wonderful life."
It is with this belief that she invites her grown daughter, Amanda, for a mother-daughter talk. Hoping to help Amanda deal with the untimely death of her husband, Adrienne opens a bottle of wine and recounts an unforgettable weekend in the North Carolina seaside town of Rodanthe.
Her story starts when she's invited to Rodanthe one weekend to tend a friend's bed-and-breakfast. Divorced and alone for three years, Adrienne still hurts and feels resentment toward her ex-husband, who left her for a younger woman after more than 20 years of marriage.
Since only one guest is scheduled, Adrienne expects it to be a quiet few days during which she can earn a little money and have a much-needed vacation.
That one guest is Paul Flanner, a surgeon with his own tragic story. He is in Rodanthe to meet with the husband of a patient who died after what Paul thought was a successful cosmetic procedure. Afterward, he plans to fly to Ecuador to join his physician son at a clinic and build a relationship they never had.
With a severe storm brewing off the coast, a few bottles of pinot grigio on hand and the bed-and-breakfast all to themselves, Paul and Adrienne share their life histories and fall in love.
"It wasn't just that he was handsome and interesting, or even charming in his own quiet way. Nor was it just the fact that he'd made her feel desirable. ... No, it was his genuine desire to change to be a better person than he had been that she found most compelling."
During the next four days, Paul and Adrienne's relationship takes the predictable turn, as they discover what many literary lovers learn: that the other person is exactly what has been missing from their lives.
Sparks' smooth, sensitive writing and a simple story line that doesn't end with every wish coming true make this a novel that can hold its own.