Book Review: A Ride With Nicholas Sparks

Arts & Books

Book Review: A Ride With Nicholas Sparks

Zelda Shluker

The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks. (Grand Central Publishing, 398 pp. $27)

As soon as The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks—author of The Notebook and other hyper-romantic novels—went on sale on October 8, 2013, it shot to the top of The New York Times best-seller list (print and ebooks; it is still on the list at No. 12 as of December 30).

What makes Sparks’s newest love potion worth mentioning by Hadassah Magazine? For the first time, the popular author has a Jewish couple—at the end of their lives, to be sure—as one anchor of a heartfelt tale. Sophia, a college student, and Luke, a bull-riding farmer, anchor the other.

Growing up, Ira Levinson is well aware of the Holocaust; his father had become a full-time, synagogue-going Jew after he learned about that horrific event. Ira’s deceased wife, Ruth, was born in Vienna and brought to the States by her parents to escape from Hitler. Both families live in North Carolina.

The novel’s opening is dramatic—Ira’s car goes off a snow-and-ice covered road and he is trapped inside, suffering a broken arm and collarbone. Unable to reach for his water bottle or to call for help, the outcome for the 91-year-old looks dire. Yet something is keeping the isolated Ira alive in his snow-covered car: flashbacks of his beloved wife with whom he speaks and reviews their life together.

Though Ira and Ruth were regular, good folks—Ira had run a haberdashery and Ruth taught underprivileged children in 3rd grade—it is their deep love that distinguishes them. Their life was not without pain or sadness, for one thing, Ira could not have children because of war injuries. Instead, he lavished his love on Ruth by indulging her love of art, especially seeking out and investing in new artists, many of whom turned out to be great artists such as Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. When Ruth died, their collection was huge and valuable.

Meanwhile, Sophia and Luke’s nascent relationship is having its ups and downs and serious financial uncertainties. Luke explains to Sophia that despite the danger he continues to ride bulls to get money to save the farm, which is in debt.

The trajectories of the two stories connect when Luke and Sophie rescue Ira. And in a Sparksonian twist, Ira's final disposition of the art collection—too clever to give away here—gives the story another, moral, anchor.

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