A Bend in the Road
I started A Bend In The Road wanting to like it, and for the first half I basically succeeded. Up until about the halfway point it is a sweet, if uncompelling, tale of two people trying to find hope for a second happiness in life. And then it suddenly turns into a slightly more-compelling but less-likable mystery in which the previously mild-mannered hero turns into an unreasoning, unlikable, and unpredictably violent monster. Although the ending tries to salvage him, its success is only partial, and I was left with mixed feelings about this very uneven book.
Miles Ryan is a widower and father of eight year old Jonah. His childhood sweetheart and wife, Missy, was killed two years ago in a car accident – one that Miles is sure was no accident. Although he is a deputy sheriff, he is not allowed to investigate the crime because of his personal connection to it. Still, he performs his own research, and he is pretty sure he knows who did it – if only he could prove it. But he has other problems at hand. He finds a note from Jonah’s teacher in his son’s backpack asking Miles to meet with her, and when he does so, he is shocked. Jonah can’t read or do basic math. His teachers have let him off in the past out of sympathy. His current teacher, Sarah Andrews, has no intention of doing the same, however, and sets up a program where both of them will help Jonah catch up. So now Miles’ attention is split between his wife’s killer, his son’s school problems – and the lovely Sarah Andrews, who Miles just can’t get out of his mind.
Sarah has just moved to town, trying to escape the painful memory of her own marriage, which failed when her upper crust husband found out that she couldn’t bear children. Here in little New Bern, North Carolina, she’s found a measure of happiness with her students, her nearby parents, but she has absolutely no social life. At least until she meets Miles Ryan, the quiet sheriff who never seems to know what to say to her. She’s touched, and soon the two fall deeply in love. But it’s not long before Miles’ involvement in the investigation of his wife’s death begins to threaten everything they have together.
Sarah is a decent character, with a personality that shines best in the early part of the novel, when she takes control of their relationship from a fumbling Miles. In the second half of the book, she plays the part of a woman trying to deal with the pressures around her, and does a fairly good job of it, until the climax nears – at which point she and another character do something so utterly stupid that it’s a wonder they both survive it. And, trying not to give away too much, her acceptance in the end was vaguely disturbing, given Miles’ behavior throughout the second half of the book.
Miles starts out as a nice guy. He’s in pain, sweet, unsure of how to act toward Sarah. His only romantic association since high school had been with his wife, and at 30 years old, he is endearingly fumbling. When the two finally do get together, he is attentive and loving, and yet slightly distant, as if his wife’s ghost still stands between them. Then, when an unexpected tip confirms his suspicion regarding his wife’s death, he suddenly become Mr. Hyde. Despite the fact that this tip is no more than hearsay, and from an unreliable source, he takes it as concrete evidence, and immediately hunts down the suspect, arrests him (without warrant), proceeds to hold a gun to the unarmed man’s head, and roughs him up in the squad car, all without even explaining why the man is being brought in. And his indiscretions don’t stop there. Yet when his best friend and his lover don’t both pat him on the head and reassure him that he has done the right thing, he immediately develops a persecution complex. He even accuses Sarah of conspiring against him, of being in on the crime.
Now, I can accept anger and even some overreaction in a case where a character loses someone they love. But complete disregard for reason, a total willingness to abuse his position (did I mention he was on suspension when he arrested the suspect?), and violence toward an unarmed suspect, along with an “everyone’s out to get me” attitude make Miles a character that I didn’t want to spend any more time with, and I certainly didn’t want a nice woman like Sarah to take her life into her own hands by associating with him.
Overall, this book started well, ended somewhat okay (although I had my doubts about Sarah’s choices), and in between is a study of a psychotically unreasonable and violent man – who happens to be the hero. I don’t doubt that Sparks can write some good books, and I will probably try some more in the future. But I can’t come close to recommending this one.