Photo by Alice M. Arthur, courtesy of Touchstone.
There were those who complained that in High Fidelity, Nick Hornby revealed proprietary secrets about what men think and talk about when women aren’t around. Something similar could be said about Nicholas Sparks’ relationship to women’s romantic fantasies — only in his case, the crime would have to involve some sort of espionage or hacking into the feminine psyche.
Sparks has a near mystical ability to concoct bestselling novels that so reliably target the swoon center in a woman’s brain. How else to explain today’s news that he’s expanding his romantic hegemony to include TV, as the creator of ABC’s “The Watchers,” about a fallen angel who goes in search of a mortal soul mate? Watch out ladies, Sparks is targeting you in his campaign to create a nation of ardor junkies.
Allow us to highlight some of the active ingredients in Sparks’ patented formula for creating mass-market literary love. Step one: Create a wounded male protagonist. Step two: Give him a passion for old things and a talent for restoring them. Step three: Have him bear his soul in gasp-inducingly beautiful love letters. Step four: Watch as said letters dismantle emotional fortress the object of his affection has built around her heart.
Need proof? Herewith, we present our evidence: Garret Blake dedicated his life to restoring old boats and writing love letters in Message in a Bottle. Another literate carpenter, The Notebook‘s Noah woos his beloved with his epistolary finesse and maintains that love-drunk state over the decades of their life together, sitting vigil at her bedside, retelling the details of their courtship. The haunted surgeon in Nights in Rodanthe begins the novel with a bit more baggage, but ultimately redeems himself with — what else? — his exquisitely written love letters to the forlorn divorcee he met while fleeing a storm at a B&B in Rodanthe, North Carolina. And then there’s Will, the Ivy League-educated hunk in The Last Song, whose commitment to protecting sea turtles is exceeded by his commitment to his one true love.
With “The Watchers,” Sparks has upgraded from mere mortal mensches to the metaphysical variety of standup guy who ostensibly learns how to be good from the, er, supreme being, who wrote the book on the subject. This is not the first time pop culture has contrived a romantic setup involving an angel with a thing for humans. The best of the bunch is probably Wim Wenders’ “Wings of Desire,” which features Bruno Ganz as the angel Damiel who falls for a forlorn trapeze artist. Less good was Hollywood’s soapy and self-serious remake, “City of Angels,” which transplanted the film from Berlin to Los Angeles and starred Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan as the lovers divided by their celestial status. Just last year, heavenly creatures were hailed as the metaphysical heirs apparent to vampires and zombies, after the release of Danielle Trussoni’s's Angelology, a romantic thriller about avenging angels hellbent on destroying humanity and the secret cabal of scholars and nuns charged with stopping them. The book graced the cover of The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review, climbed bestseller lists, and has now been optioned by Will Smith’s production company with Marc Forster (“The Kite Runner”) attached to direct.
If anyone can implant a chip in the popular consciousness that turns angels into Twilight-style tortured heroes, Sparks stands a good chance. Even so, this combination of seraph and Sparks is a little sickly sweet for our taste. What are your thoughts on the Sparks’ romantic hegemony? Are angels the next zombies? And how do you feel about the king of romance devoting himself to the small screen? Speak now or forever hold your peace.