Message in a Bottle (Sparks)

Message in a Bottle
Nicholas Sparks, 1998
Grand Central Pub
000 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780446606813

1996 The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks captured the hearts and imaginations of readers around the world. It spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list and was the No. 1 bestselling hardcover fiction title of 1997.

Message in a Bottle, Nicholas Sparks's eagerly anticipated second novel, proves that this author can uncork the magic again. The film industry caught on to the buzz immediately. Warner Brothers snapped up movie rights within 12 hours of submission, and Kevin Costner, Robin Wright, and Paul Newman starred in the 1999 film.

The book is a heart-wrenching tale of self-discovery, renewal, and the courage it takes to love again. Teresa Osborne, a 36-year-old single mother, finds a bottle washed up on a Cape Cod beach. The scrolled-up message inside is a passionate love letter written by a heartbroken man named Garrett who is grieving over "his darling Catherine." Teresa is so moved by the stranger's poignant words that she vows to find the penman and publishes the letter in her syndicated Boston newspaper column. Questions linger in her mind and heart: Who is Garrett? Who is Catherine? What is their story? And most importantly, why did this bottle find its way to her?

Imagining that Garrett is the type of man she has always been seeking, Teresa sets out on an impulsive, hope-filled search. Her journey, her discovery, and the wisdom gained from this voyage of self-discovery changes her life forever. Love's unimaginable strength as well as its tremendous fragility echoes on each page of Sparks's newest gem. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—December 31. 1965
Where—Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Education—B.A., University of Notre Dame
Currently—lives in New Bern, North Carolina

Ever since The Notebook made Nicholas Sparks a word-of-mouth publishing sensation in 1996, he has maintained his status as a bestselling author of tragedy-tinged love stories. His spare, simply themed novels star ordinary people overcome by extraordinary emotions, and changed by them.

It's possible that Sparks might have enjoyed his level of popularity by writing these stories strictly from imagination, but in fact his family's struggles play an important role in many of his books, especially the earliest novels. (For example The Notebook, his tale of a great love affair extending into old age, was inspired by his wife's grandparents; Message in a Bottle drew from Sparks' father's life story and A Walk to Remember from his late sister's.) In addition, a three-week trip he and his older sibling Micah undertook in 2003 became the basis for Three Weeks with My Brother, a unique memoir as moving and tenderhearted as any of his fiction.

Sparks is very methodical about his writing, an approach he makes transparent on his web site with several essays, updates on works in progress, and notes on the mechanics of his novels. Unsurprisingly, critics have faulted him for being too formulaic or cliched. Still, Sparks never fails to move his stories along quickly, maximizing emotional impact and featuring strong, down-to-earth characters. His endings also tend to depart from convention a bit, revealing tragedy where the walk into the sunset should be.

Although he is often classified as a Romance writer, Sparks is quick to point out that his books don't really satisfy the requirements of Romance publishers. Instead, he admits to writing love stories, a different genre altogether. Whatever he cares to call them, one thing's for sure: Nicholas Sparks continues to strike gold with his bittersweet novels of love and loss.

• Sparks came to his career in an unconventional way: Sidelined after a running injury at University of Notre Dame, where he had won a full track scholarship and still holds the 4x800 relay record, he decided to write a book after his mother offhandedly suggested it as a way to make him stop brooding. His first novel remains unpublished ("It's a wonderful story—except for the writing," he wrote later), but he kept trying. He later coauthored an inspirational title called Wokini; but his third novel (The Notebook) was the charm.

• Blockbuster film adaptations of Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, and The Notebook have turned Sparks into a successful Hollywood franchise.

• Sparks' wife is probably one of the most envied wives around. She met Nicholas in college at spring break, where he informed her that they would be married. She laughed him off, but they were married just over a year later. He told Barnes & in a 1999 interview, "I suppose I'm a romantic. Ladies Home Journal has even called me the Most Romantic Husband in America. In fact, I sent my wife a dozen roses today."

• Sparks was still selling pharmaceuticals and had only just delivered the final version of The Notebook to his agent when she called, two days after receiving the manuscript, telling him she expected "something big." That something big materialized within the week: a $1 million offer from Warner Books.

• Sparks holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. (From Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews
Glows with moments of tenderness.... Has the potential to delve deeply into the mysteries of eternal love.
Cleveland Plain Dealer

Brew the tea or pour a glass of wine—whatever is your pleasure. And settle in for Nicholas Sparks's latest book.... You're in for another treat.
Oakland Press

A three-hanky love story.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Avoiding a sophomore slump, Sparks follows The Notebook with another sentimental candidate for the bestseller lists. Boston parenting columnist Theresa Osborne has lost faith in the dream of everlasting love. Three years after divorcing her cheating husband, the single mother is vacationing on Cape Cod when she finds a bottle washed up on the shore. Inside, a message begins: "My Dearest Catherine, I miss you." Subsequent publication of the poignant missive in her column turns up two more letters, found by others, from the same mysterious writer, Garrett Blake. Piqued by his epistolary constancy, Theresa follows the trail to North Carolina, where she discovers that Garrett has been mourning his late wife for three years; writing the sea-borne messages is his only solace. Theresa also finds that Garrett just might be ready to love again...and that she might be the woman for him. There are few surprises here as we watch the couple learn to love in Catherine's slowly waning shadow. By the time they do, Sparks has proved that a man who romantically (and manually) pens missives to his lost lady love in the era of e-mail is a welcome hero in this fin-de-millennium fax-happy world. (Knowing that Kevin Costner has been slated to play Garrett on screen doesn't hurt, either.)
Publishers Weekly

Sparks' second novel proves that his best-selling The Notebook (1996) was no fluke as, once again, he offers his audience a deeply moving, beautifully written, and extremely romantic love story. Theresa Osborne is a divorced mother and Boston newspaper columnist, disillusioned with the single men she meets and yearning for someone special. When her son goes to California to stay with her ex-husband, she decides to go on a vacation to the Cape with Deanna, her editor and best friend. While jogging on the beach, Theresa discovers a bottle with a letter tucked inside from a man named Garrett to a woman named Catherine in which he describes the heartache of losing her. The letter moves Theresa to tears, so Deanna convinces her to print it in her column, thereby setting off a surprising chain reaction: it turns out that others have also found letters by Garrett. Imagining that this is the sort of man she has been seeking, Theresa sets out to find him, following various clues found in the letters. She succeeds and discovers that, indeed, he is everything she hoped he would be, including sincere, and therein lies the problem. His profound attachment to Catherine is a serious threat to their burgeoning relationship. Sparks' tale about the obstacles people face in second relationships is sensitive, wonderfully bittersweet, and ultimately hopeful. —Pat Engelmann
Library Journal

Famous from the best-sellerdom of The Notebook (1996), Sparks sails again into the waters of many tearsthough this time, thanks to fewness of charms in the writing and diminished reason to suspend disbelief, Kleenex sales are likely to remain stable. Boston Times columnist Theresa Osborne finds a bottle on the Cape Cod beach where shes vacationing. Inside? Well, a letter from one love-lorn Garrett to a sadly missed Catherine. Reading it brings the not-long-ago divorced Theresa Osborne to tears, though others may have their own responses (I miss you, my darling, as I always do, but today is especially hard because the ocean has been singing to me...). Theresa runs the letter in her Times column (though her beat is really parenting), and, remarkably (But what did it all mean?), another Garrett-Catherine letter surfaces, in the possession of a Norfolk, Virginia, reader of the column. Suffice it so say (I think of you, I dream of you, I conjure you up when I need you most), especially after a third letter comes to light, Theresa really wants to meet Garrett. So after little detective work she flies to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, visits the docks (She stepped out of her car, brushed the hair from her face, and started toward the entrance), boards Garretts sailing boat, the Happenstance, and meets the remarkable Garrett himself (There was something mysterious and different about the way he acted, something masculine). An evening sail, some more hair-tossing, and a new romance is well underway though the question remains whether Garrett can free himself from his grief and love for the tragically dead Catherine, his wife of nine years. Telling wouldnt be fair, though Theresa says at one point: "I love you, too, Garrett. But sometimes love isnt enough." Prizes: Worst writing: Garretts letters. Best scene: storm at sea. Most unbelievable scene: same storm at sea. Worst example of.... But enough already.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. In the first letter, Garrett Blake mentions a dream he has of his deceased wife Catherine, in which he longs to be with her, but cannot join her. Is such a dream realistic? Have you ever had dreams that seem to carry such symbolic meaning in your own life?

2. sailboat that Garrett Blake restores is an important setting for many of the major scenes in the novel. He'd been restoring it with Catherine, it was there she first told him she was pregnant, it was also the scene of Garrett and Theresa's first date and Garrett's death. What does the sailboat represent? Could another setting have worked as well? Does the destruction of the sailboat at the end of the novel say anything important to you?

3. Garrett Blake is plagued by memories of his deceased wife throughout his courtship of Theresa. In the end, we learn that Catherine was pregnant when she died. How did this affect Garrett's relationship with Kevin?

4. When Theresa comes down to "meet" Garrett Blake for the first time, was she secretly hoping to fall in love with him, or was it as she implied, simply because she wanted to meet someone "who could love like that?" Was it right or wrong for her not to have told him about the messages she'd found right away? What would you have done in that situation?

6. When asked by his father, Garrett tries to deny his new feelings for Theresa, but his father doesn't accept his answer. Do you think he did this because he thought Garrett was lying, or because he wanted to believe that Garrett was lying? Is there a difference between the two? Was he speaking as a father or friend, or both?

7. Theresa regrets hiding the letters and knows she has to tell Garrett about them eventually. But Garrett learns about their existence before she does so and he storms out of the house, thinking that she's lied to him from the beginning. Why does Garrett change his mind about Theresa in the days following their argument? Did that discovery lead to Garrett's death, or would he have sent the final letter anyway? Did Garrett's discovery make him love Theresa more or less? Why?

8. Were you surprised when Garrett took the boat out, knowing that a storm was coming? What does this say about Garrett Blake? Had he not died, would he and Theresa have gotten married? If so, where would they have lived?

9. Garrett loved Catherine with all his heart. Had his love been romanticized by her loss? Did he love Theresa with the same intensity? Knowing that Catherine had been pregnant when she died, did Theresa's son Kevin add to their relationship or detract from it?

10 Was the fact that Theresa Osborne was able to find evidence of three letters plausible? Why or why not? What role does coincidence play in their relationship?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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