True to form, Nicholas Sparks’ latest novel, “The Wish,” covers the gamut of emotions from love to loss and will have readers crying gently into a tissue before the end. In this story, we meet Maggie Dawes, a noted photographer who is dying from melanoma. So from the very start, Sparks is upfront that this book is about someone who will probably die by the end of the story. We are forewarned. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some surprises in store for us.
What we come to learn is how Maggie ended up where she is, the manager of an art gallery in New York City, unmarried, a successful photographer who has traveled the world taking fabulous images for countless publications. In this story, the device through which we learn about Maggie’s past is a young man who has recently started working for the gallery, Mark. He appears with a resume just as Maggie is considering hiring help for the gallery. Her one employee, Luanne, a wealthy woman who has become a friend, will be unable to shoulder all the work now that Maggie is ill and will not be able to help as much as she had. Mark admits that he has watched Maggie’s YouTube videos about her cancer and the updates she posts, which have drawn many more fans than she previously had as a photographer.
While Maggie senses something a bit off about Mark, Luanne is enthusiastic, and they hire him. And as they work together, she grows to trust him. When Luanne goes away over Christmas, Maggie and Mark spend time together, and she begins to tell him the story of her life. He is enthralled, and over the course of a few weeks, Maggie tells us all the story of how she fell in love and what happened to her.
Of course, Sparks being master of the twist — twist to the heart, that is — he creates threads that connect the characters in ways we hadn’t expected. Sparks is also a master at describing different kinds of families. There is the kind of family that seems almost perfect, but which in fact bears flaws that, while not fatal, are such that they preclude having a loving, close family. Art imitates life, and part of Sparks’ success is his ability to show us people who are flawed, much like people we might know, people who might be parts of our family or circle of friends. And while these people have their problems, be it that they are narrow-minded, prone to jealousy, or selfish, he softens the lens to show that they also might be people who do the best they can. We wonder about people who go through life seemingly complaining about nothing. Is it because they are truly so lacking in empathy that they cannot understand the feelings or aspirations of others? Is it simply that they were stunted emotionally when they were young? Is that even an excuse? And yet we all know, and Sparks includes in his cast of characters, people who go through life complaining about things that objectively do add up to nothing.
What Sparks also highlights is that no matter what, loving deeply ultimately brings grief. At some point, we lose the ones we love, or they lose us. My husband, as a young child, calculated the age at which he, his sister, and his parents could all die of old age at the same time — because we don’t want to be left behind when our loved ones die, nor do we want them to be the ones grieving when we go. But death is part of life, and life must continue even after the most heartbreaking of losses. And “The Wish,” like many other of Sparks’ beautiful stories, makes that sad reality abundantly clear. So keep those tissues handy.
Please note: This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.