A Bend in the Road Summary

Nicholas Sparks

A Bend in the Road

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A Bend in the Road Summary

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A Bend in the Road is a 2001 novel by Nicholas Sparks, author of such well-known novels as A Walk to Remember and The Notebook. It tells the story of Miles Ryan, whose wife, Missy, was killed by a hit-and-run driver, and his attempt to move on from her loss. Ryan is deputy sheriff of New Bern, North Carolina; so for both personal and professional reasons he feels it’s his duty to discover the identity of Missy’s killer. Eventually he does find out, and the information completely upsets a life that had just started to settle into a new sense of normalcy. His situation is further complicated by the fact that he is now sole parent to a young son who has also been greatly impacted by the tragedy.

The novel begins in 1988, some two years after Missy’s death. She was struck by a car while out jogging; the person who hit her fled the scene, leaving little useful evidence behind. After a period of obsession with finding her killer, during which Miles slept little and poorly, and his relationship with his son, Jonah, suffered, Miles begins to try looking ahead.

Jonah, meanwhile, has been having his own troubles coping. He is a sensitive and generally good-natured boy, in second grade, but has fallen behind in school because of his grief. Miles decides he needs to have a meeting with Jonah’s teacher, Sarah Andrews. Sarah is new to town, and beautiful. She commits to helping Jonah catch up to his peers. As she and Miles start spending more time together, they both notice a growing mutual attraction. But Sarah, like Miles, is in a difficult position emotionally; she has only recently gone through a bitter and difficult divorce. Her ex-husband, Michael, left her after finding out she was infertile. To heal herself, and to console herself with her inability to have her own kids, she chooses to move to New Bern and teach. Resultingly, she, like Miles, is at first unsure about whether to pursue their attraction – or how to do so. But in the end, she decides to act on her intuition and asks Miles out.

Miles and Sarah’s relationship begins swimmingly, and they grow close. After a month, they finally become intimate. But Miles receives a blow to his happiness when he hears from the town drunk that Otis Timson, Miles’ longtime nemesis, has confessed to Missy’s murder. This knowledge understandably infuriates Miles, but Miles turns obsessive. First he arrests Otis, on his own and without any other corroborating evidence. Then, after he is chastised and suspended from his job, he starts shutting people out – including Sarah and his own son – so that he can comb, yet again, through the details of the case. He does not seem able after all to move on; his entire life again centers on his wife’s death.

Sarah, distraught by the distance Miles has thrust between them, turns to her brother, Brian, for solace. She explains what has happened to Miles, and Brian responds by confessing a secret to her. He was the one who killed Missy. The collision had been an accident; he drove off after the event in a blind panic. Since then he has quietly kept tabs on the Ryan family, looking for signs of their having moved on in hopes of alleviating his sense of guilt.

Sarah forces Brian to confess to Miles. He does so and Miles is initially enraged, and attempts to arrest Brian. Stunned by the confession, Miles returns to the scene of the accident, and discovers evidence that supports Brian’s account. He trails Brian to a cemetery, and grapples with him. Miles forces Brian to promise to do something with his life; as if to somehow make up for what he has done. Then he lets Brian go. Brian makes good on his promise, becoming, in time, a paramedic, and saving several lives with the kind of medical attention that might have saved Missy.

A Bend in the Road conforms to many romance novel and melodrama stereotypes. It features a protagonist with a painful past that he must learn to overcome, for instance; and a couple that almost loses love, only to find happiness in the end. It even, in the character of Brian, features a character who changes his life completely for the better by taking responsibility for a long avoided mistake. These tropes are often considered clichés, but their popularity in best-selling novels like Sparks’ speaks to their strong pull on the reading public. Sparks has said that the character of Miles Ryan is based on his own brother-in-law. When Sparks’ sister was dying of cancer, he felt himself worrying for his brother-in-law, who would be left to raise their children a widower. That is where he got the inspiration for A Bend in the Road.