Apropos of Stacey’s post about genre, a recent interview in USA Today with New York Times best-selling author Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, A Walk To Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, etc.) shines a revealing light on our discomfort with assigning labels. According to Sparks, he writes not romances but “love stories.” He is quick to point out that his form is drama, not melodrama, “It’s a very fine eye-of-the-needle to thread. And it’s very rare that it works. That’s why I tend to dominate this particular genre. There is this fine line. And I do not verge into melodrama. It’s all drama.” And that he hearkens back to the traditions of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.
The author doth protest too much, methinks. For someone who has achieved the level of success that Sparks has, he is curiously keen to erect a wall between “romance” (obviously a lesser category) and love stories, and proclaim that he is the only writer working in his self-defined genre. That he is the literary successor of the Greek tragedians is perhaps open to argument, but it’s true that writers—most of them anyway—are inheritors, imitators and innovators of long established traditions. In last week’s New Yorker, James Woods pointed out that most novels, at least those that are not labeled “experimental” (another imperfect category), are “conventional.” Which is fine by me—convention does not preclude excellence. I understand why authors protest narrow categorization, or fear being trapped in “genre ghettos,” but in Sparks’ case, it’s hardly because he worries it will hurt his readership. Indeed, whether or not you can spot the Aeschylus in The Last Song, it seems to me that Sparks’ interview just might reveal a different sort of classical legacy—hubris.