It contains some rather alarming cliches that have persisted in literature since Pride and Prejudice: spunky, unassuming woman charms the pants off a debonair misanthrope and they fall in love.
The sullen gentleman in question is a victim of a tragic accident that leaves him paralyzed from the neck down. Once a vibrant charlatan with an outsized life, he’s been reduced to a shell of a body over which he has minimal control, and which will eventually kill him. His quality of life is so poor that he wants to kill himself, and he’s given his parents a six-month warning.
The love interest is a homebody who’s hired to be his companion, and unbeknownst to her, convince him that life is worth living even in a severely diminished state.
They do, indeed, fall in love. She brings him on outings he never thought he would enjoy and he expands her horizons beyond the little tourist town in which they live.
What devestated me is that the woman tells him she loves him; she’s done all this research on how they can be together, although intimacy will obviously be constrained; he’s been such a good influence on her and now he doesn’t have to doubt that someone loves him. She has a pretty selfish sister, a family that enables the sister’s selfishness and a boyfriend who cares more about physical fitness than her. She is willing to upend her entire life to be with him.
Despite his diminished capacity, he’s a good friend to her: he gives her thoughtful gifts, he challenges her on all levels, he is honest and caring and kind.
He says she and her love are not enough, and it slayed me. I know it’s a silly book (although seriously, the assisted suicide bits are enlightening and it made me really think about how the world is designed by and large for people who have the use of all their limbs and faculties) but it’s just another message that despite giving someone all our love and all of who we are, that it’s not enough. Women are never enough, there’s always something lacking. So not only did she fail at her task to change his mind, she failed as a potential love interest, she failed as herself.
For the man in the book, he returned her feelings but said he’d always feel like he was holding her back, he resents not being the man he wants to be for her (even though she fell in love with him as a paraplegic and it’s sort of insinuated in the book that they would not have met or fallen in love otherwise), she deserves the whole world and he can’t give it to her.
He wanted to kill himself because it’s the first decision he had control over but in doing so, completely negated her choice to want to be with him.
It was a predictable ending, I’m enough of a cynic to admit that him going through with it was the only possible conclusion; it would have been unrealistic for them to be together. That’s a Sparks ending.
Now to go watch some Arrested Development.