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Sparks’ ‘Safe Haven’ addresses serious topic, falls short in its story development

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By Caroline Curran, Reporter

I loved “The Notebook.” I loved the book. I loved the movie. I loved the story.

That was the first and last Nicholas Sparks novel (or movie) I loved.

Recently, while on assignment in Southport, construction crews were busy building a set for the upcoming movie adaptation of Sparks’ novel, “Safe Haven.”

With production on the movie under way, and the stars heading to town, I thought it would be fun and timely to review the book at the heart of the movie.

“Safe Haven,” published in 2010 by Grand Central Publishing, is a story about a young twenty-something Katie (who we learn is really Erin) who escapes an abusive marriage in the Boston area to the safety and anonymity of small-time life in Southport.

While living in the tiny (and very hot) southern town with practically nothing to do or see (as it’s described in the novel), Katie is charmed and ultimately swept off her feet when she meets a handsome former college swimmer turned U.S. Army investigator Alex.

A widower, Alex is raising his two young children while running the general store/gas station he took over from his in-laws along the Cape Fear River.

Katie, using the assumed identity of her former neighbors’ daughter who died in her twenties, is waiting tables a waterfront restaurant, Ivan’s (reportedly to be filmed at American Fish Co. on the yacht basin in the coming weeks) when she meets the ruggedly handsome, fit and gray-haired single father.

As expected, Katie is hesitant to let anyone in on her secret, fearful her estranged husband with the resources of his employer—the Boston Police Department—would track her down and take her home, or worse, kill her for leaving him.

Sparks takes great pains to describe the husband, Kevin, and his motivations. But he falls short in its execution.

We learn Kevin first started beating Katie, whom he knows as Erin, on their Hawaiian honeymoon because she left her sunglasses by the pool. The abuse only gets more frequent and more severe before she finally is able to leave him while he’s out of town testifying as detective in a high profile, change-of-venue trial.

Meanwhile back in Southport, Katie and Alex are quickly falling in love. Alex is more open about it, while Katie is gun-shy, although the span of their romance is no more than two months. But it is her grief-counselor neighbor, Jo, who convinces Katie to come clean with her secrets and give Alex, love and family a chance.

Like their father, Alex’s young children also quickly fall in love with Katie. Sparks describes her as very beautiful—both as Erin with long blond, perfectly coifed hair and as Katie with box-died brown and unevenly shorn brown hair. But, again, we never learn what drives Katie. We never learn what is at the heart of her character.

What drives Alex to fall madly and deeply in love with this stranger is still a mystery to me.

Just when Katie feels safe with Alex and his kids, Kevin, in a vodka-fueled rage, finds his way to Southport where he makes multiple attempts to punish Katie, Alex, and even the kids.

“Safe Haven” is a beach read at best. There’s very little in the story to prompt discussion, other than the topic of domestic violence. The characters are poorly developed and the storyline is predictable.

I’d recommend waiting for the movie, if only for the sights and sounds of Southport on the big screen.

Caroline Curran is a staff writer and columnist at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or ccurran@brunswickbeacon.com. Follow her on Twitter at @cgcurran.