Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks is a contemporary, romance novel about a father and husband watching his life drastically change from the future he had envisioned. Our main character is the husband and father, Russ Green; this book alternates between Russ’ thoughts (including flashbacks) and present day events. Over the course of the novel, we learn that:
- Russ has an older sister named Marge.
- Both of their parents worked; dad was a plumber and we aren’t told what job mom held – we just know she kept the job because they needed the money.
- Because both parents worked either full- or part-time, Marge ended up babysitting Russ a lot when they weren’t home.
- Russ was only about 12-years old when Marge told him that she “likes girls”; he realized in retrospect that at that age, he didn’t fully understand what she was telling him to have a different reaction.
Russ explains that their parents were very traditional, that Marge wasn’t ready to tell them yet and made Russ swear to keep it a secret. We learn that while attending college at NC State, Russ meets and starts dating a young lady named Emily. He and his family adore her; unfortunately, one night in a drunken stupor Russ cheats on Emily with a woman he meets at the bar while out drinking with some friends. He immediately felt guilty about the act, but when he wanted to propose to Emily he just couldn’t do it keeping secrets from her; so, against the advice of Marge, Russ told Emily what he had done and apologized profusely hoping she would forgive him and they go back to normal. Instead, the relationship ended and Russ had to move on. After graduating, Russ begins working with an advertising company in Charlotte, North Carolina. At one time during his time as an employee of the company, Russ had to work in the New York office and it was during his time in New York that he met Vivian.
Eventually, Russ and Vivian begin dating and their relationship gets pretty serious quickly. She is a public relations specialist or she’s at least in the public relations industry and works for a company in New York. After dating for a while, then going through a short engagement, Russ and Vivian get married. He eventually goes back to the Charlotte office, so they move to North Carolina where they fall into a routine of spending time with his parents, Marge and Liz (Marge’s partner). Although everyone is cordial when together, the atmosphere is not the same between his family and Vivian as it was when he was dating Emily. A few years into their marriage, Vivian decides she’s ready to start a family and Russ simply agrees because he thinks he has more time before Vivian gets pregnant. Russ was wrong; Vivian got pregnant pretty quickly which shocked and scared Russ a little bit because he wasn’t sure that he was ready to be a father. Vivian gave birth to a baby girl who they decided to name London; Vivian decides to become a stay-at-home mom to devote all of her time and attention on London.
Vivian staying at home makes Russ anxious because before they had the luxury of two incomes which afforded them a particular lifestyle, but without the second income a lot of their spending habits would have to change – especially Vivian’s because she spends a lot of money shopping for things for herself and London. Gradually things take a downturn at work for Russ and he can tell that his boss is working his way up to terminating Russ from his position so Russ decides that he’s going to preemptively resign. After resigning from the company, Russ realizes he can start his own company doing what he was doing before and go after the businesses that his old boss refused to work for or do business with such as lawyers. When Russ mentions his idea to start his advertising business, Vivian is less than pleased with this news and it shows in her response. She calls Russ selfish and basically blames him for her having to go back to work. At first she said she was going to go back part-time since London had not started school yet and needed someone to watch her, but after making a few calls she ends up accepting a full-time job with Walter Spannerman. Russ knows of Walter Spannerman quite well – and is not keen on the idea of his wife working for the man. However, Vivian dismisses his feelings on the matter and moves on as if Russ hadn’t expressed any concerns.
At this development, Russ finds out that he will have to take care of London, while trying to start a business, until she starts school in August. He quickly realizes that she has a busy schedule during the week with different classes and lessons that her mom enrolled her in. London has dance class, art class, tennis/soccer and piano lessons. He also realizes that he won’t always be able to depend on his parents (mostly mom since she’s retired) to watch London for him because of her social calendar. Russ is able to work out a schedule where he gets work done from home and coffee shops while shuttling London around to her different activities. At one of the tennis practices, Russ meets a lawyer who complains about the advertising for his business and industry in general. He points out how nobody can remember the number even though they’ve heard of his name and points to how that’s a problem. Somehow Russ is able to schedule a meeting to present an advertising campaign proposal including the costs. He’s excited and nervous at the prospect of signing his first client. Vivian is happy for him, but the level of enthusiasm expected of a spouse who was angry at even having to look for and take a job just one day ago. As I suspected would happen, Vivian leaves Russ to be with Walter and moves to Atlanta; she mentions that although she would eventually want London to be in Atlanta, she thinks it’s best that London stay with him in the house until she has time to fix her apartment up and set up London’s room there. Russ agrees to this, but bristles at the idea of London being in Atlanta.
As the story goes on, we find out that Bohdi’s (London’s best friend) mom is Emily – yes, the same Emily that Russ dated and was going to propose to when he was in college. Bohdi and London have art class together and get along so well; Russ and Emily end up grabbing coffee at a nearby coffee shop during art class and take a moment to catch up. Russ learns that Emily married an Australian man named David and that things went well in the beginning of the marriage – he was charming and all of those wonderful things that woo a woman. The only problem she had with him was that he wouldn’t stop cheating, so she divorced him. He had recently moved back to Australia and was already dating another woman. Russ gives a small idea of what is going on with his marriage and slowly begins to confide in her more and more. Bohdi has been asking if London could come over to his house to meet his dog, Noodle, since he was able to meet her hamsters, Mr. and Mrs. Sprinkles I believe. Russ mentions having a presentation the following week and difficulty finding someone to watch London for him during the meeting to which Emily offers to have London over at her place. She explains how Bohdi has been asking her if London could come over and he is grateful that Emily would offer and do it for him. So they exchange numbers and she texts him her address; he confirms the date and time. The meeting went pretty well and the playdate was a total success so the kids, Emily and Russ start spending a bit more time together going to places like the zoo. Vivian finds out that they’ve been spending more time with Emily and Bohdi, and she sees London give Emily a hug “in front of everyone” at art class when Vivian was dropping her off one time. Vivian was clearly offended and upset that this could even happen and made it clear that she believed his actions would confuse London and that he’s dragging her along in his relationship with Emily because of his feelings for Emily and not because Emily is friends with Bohdi.
The story follows Russ as he works hard to navigate this new life of being a working single father, while going through a custody battle with an angry ex-wife and his resurfacing feelings for Emily (the one he lost). Readers are taken along with Russ as he tries to process his divorce and make sense of what went wrong in his marriage and why it went wrong while also helping London to maintain a normal routine despite having to split her time between both parents. Readers are taken through these events all through the eyes of Russ who is the narrator of the story from beginning to end. Overall, I thought the book was ok; the story was good and engaging, the characters were well developed and the whole novel was typical Sparks. However, for a Nicholas Sparks book, I felt something was missing and that it lacked something that his earlier novels had that made them really good or memorable. I was also disappointed (and a little frustrated) to find quite a few misspellings and grammatical errors in the book; for an author who has published numerous books previously, I would expect that there would be a couple of mistakes, but anymore than about 3-4 and I get concerned. My favorite character was Emily – followed closely by London – my least favorite character was Vivian because she was secretive, confusing, demeaning, vindictive, demanding and unsupportive. She was amazingly aggravating. I like Russ too, but the fact that he didn’t really correct Vivian where she got information wrong was infuriating because something within me is bothered by snubs and accusations based on lies. There was a love story, and one could even possibly argue there were two, going on in the novel, but it seemed more low-key than in some of his previous works. It seemed that in this particular novel, the focus was not necessarily the love story about Russ and Emily, but the story seemed to focus on familial relationships, marriage, divorce and parenting. So, that’s one unpredictable thing about this book.
My wonderful, hard-working and loving husband purchased the hardcover of this book for me as a gift a few years ago (thanks babe!) from Barnes and Noble; I don’t remember how much he paid for it at the time, but I can tell you that currently the hardcover costs $27.00 (but it’s $8.00 for Members!). If you’d rather not purchase the book, I recommend checking your local library’s catalog to see if they have it or if you live near a used bookstore, to see if they have a copy for cheap. I would recommend this book to adult readers who enjoy Nicholas Sparks as an author, who enjoy romance novels and contemporary fiction novels.
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