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

Nicholas Charles Sparks is an American novelist, screenwriter and producer. He has published some 20 novels, plus one non-fiction. Ten have been adapted to films, including Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John, The Last Song, The Lucky One, and most recently The Longest Ride.

Sparks was born to Patrick Michael Sparks, a professor of business, and Jill Emma Marie Sparks (nee Thoene), a homemaker and an optometrist's assistant. He was the middle of three children, with an older brother and a younger sister, "Dana", who died at the age of 33 from a brain tumor. Sparks said that she is the inspiration for the main character in his novel A Walk to Remember.

His father was pursuing graduate studies at University of Minnesota and University of Southern California, and the family moved a great deal, so by the time Sparks was eight, he had lived in Watertown, Minnesota, Inglewood, California, Playa del Rey, California, and Grand Island, Nebraska, which was his mother's hometown during his parents' one year separation.

In 1974 his father became a professor of business at California State University, Sacramento teaching behavioral theory and management. His family settled in Fair Oaks, California, and remained there through Nicholas's high school days. He graduated in 1984 as valedictorian from Bella Vista High School, then enrolled at the University of Notre Dame under a full track and field scholarship. In his freshman year, his team set a record for the 4 x 800 relay.

Sparks majored in business finance and graduated from Notre Dame with honors in 1988. He also met his future wife that year, Cathy Cote from New Hampshire, while they were both on spring break. They married in 1989 and moved to New Bern, North Carolina.

Writing career
While still in school in 1985, Sparks penned his first (never published) novel, The Passing, while home for the summer between freshman and sophomore years at Notre Dame. He wrote another novel in 1989, also unpublished, The Royal Murders.

After college, Sparks sought work with publishers or to attend law school, but was rejected in both attempts. He then spent the next three years trying other careers, including real estate appraisal, waiting tables, selling dental products by phone and starting his own manufacturing business.

In 1990, Sparks co-wrote with Billy Mills Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding. The book was published by Random House sold 50,000 copies in its first year.

In 1992, Sparks began selling pharmaceuticals and in 1993 was transferred to Washington, DC. It was there that he wrote another novel in his spare time, The Notebook. Two years later, he was discovered by literary agent Theresa Park, who picked The Notebook out of her agency's slush pile, liked it, and offered to represent him. In October 1995, Park secured a $1 million advance for The Notebook from Time Warner Book Group. The novel was published in 1996 and made the New York Times best-seller list in its first week of release.

With the success of his first novel, he and Cathy moved to New Bern, NC. After his first publishing success, he began writing his string of international bestsellers.

Personal life and philanthropy
Sparks continues to reside in North Carolina with his wife Cathy, their three sons, and twin daughters. A Roman Catholic since birth, he and his wife are raising their children in the Catholic faith.

In 2008, Entertainment Weekly reported that Sparks and his wife had donated "close to $10 million" to start a private Christian college-prep school, The Epiphany School of Global Studies, which emphasizes travel and lifelong learning.

Sparks also donated $900,000 for a new all-weather tartan track to New Bern High School. He also donates his time to help coach the New Bern High School track team and a local club track team as a volunteer head coach.

In addition to track, he funds scholarships, internships and annual fellowship to the Creative Writing Program (MFA) at the University of Notre Dame. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)

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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