Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas
Suzanne's Diary for NicholasINTRODUCTION
Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas (2001) marks a departure for best-selling author James Patterson. Though Patterson has written novels in a variety of genres, he is best known for his mystery thriller series featuring detective Alex Cross. Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas is Patterson's first foray into the romance genre. Like his other books, it has been very popular with readers and has sold millions of copies.
In the two stories that intertwine throughout Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, Patterson emphasizes the importance of creating balance in one's life and appreciating every day. The framing story focuses on Katie Wilkinson, a New York book editor whose relationship with poet Matt Harrison ends unexpectedly. As Katie processes the breakup, she reads the diary written by Matt's late wife Suzanne in an effort to understand his tragic past.
Suzanne's heart problems had compelled her to leave a hectic life in Boston and move to Martha's Vineyard, where she found love and happiness with Matt and gave birth to their son. Her continued heart problems eventually lead to her death as well as her son's. After Katie finishes reading the diary, she and Matt eventually reconcile and marry.
Patterson drew on heartbreak from his own life to write Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas. He fell in love with Jane Blanchard in 1974, and after the couple dated for several years, she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. They spent the last few years of her life cherishing each day they had together. After her death, Patterson focused on work and writing for over a decade and avoided romantic relationships. He later married his wife, Susan, who wrote a diary for their son, Jack, when Jack was a baby.
Though some critics are dismissive of the novel, Patterson is proud of its power. He told Nicholas Wroe of the Guardian,
Late last year I was in New York for a signing and I was given a letter from a woman whose fiancé was killed in the World Trade Centre. She had read Suzanne's Diary before he died and then she re-read it afterwards because she felt it had a message that would help her move on. I've heard some variation of that story thousands of times, and that is my reward.
James Patterson was born on March 22, 1947, in Newburg, New York. His parents, Charles and Isabelle Patterson, had three daughters and James, the only boy. As a senior in high school, Patterson moved with his family to Boston, Massachusetts. There, he built on his natural love of books and began reading serious literature. During his student years, he often read while working the night shift at a mental hospital. Patterson earned a bachelor's degree summa cum laude in English literature from Manhattan College and a master's degree in English from Vanderbilt University. He started writing fiction as part of his graduate degree program.
When Patterson completed his master's degree at Vanderbilt, he began what would be his primary career for many years. He worked in creative positions at the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson beginning in the early 1970s. As Patterson moved up the corporate ladder, he developed memorable campaigns for clients such Burger King, Toys R Us, Ford, and Bell Atlantic. Patterson was the chairman of J. Walter Thompson during his last six years at the company. In 1996, he retired to focus on writing, and soon he had a family as well. His longtime girlfriend, Jane Blanchard, had died of brain cancer in the 1980s, and in 1997 Patterson married Susan Solie. The couple has a son named Jack.
While Patterson spent much of his energy on his professional and personal life, he wrote fiction on his own time beginning in the 1970s. He published his first novel, the Edgar Award-winning The Thomas Berryman Number, in 1976. Though many critics and Patterson himself believe that The Thomas Berryman Number is his best book, he decided to take a different approach toward writing after its publication. Nearly all of Patterson's subsequent novels focus on plot-driven stories that are not bogged down in details. He began to concentrate on commercial fiction, sometimes written with a co-author, which has proved popular with readers. Patterson has drawn on his advertising background to promote his books, often taking charge of marketing and book cover design.
Patterson became famous for his mystery thriller series featuring detective Alex Cross. Two of these novels were turned into movies: Along Came a Spider (1993) and Kiss the Girls (1995). Women characters often play a prominent role in Patterson's books. The author admits relating to women better than men and feels that he understands women well. Another mystery series, the Women's Murder Club, focuses on a group of female friends who investigate homicides. This series includes 1st to Die (2001) and 2nd Chance (2002).
In addition to mysteries and thrillers, Patterson has dabbled in many other fictional genres, including fantasy, historical fiction, and romance. Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas (2001) is Patterson's first attempt at the romance genre and one of his most popular books. Other books published in the early 2000s include the historical novel The Jester (2003), another romance, Sam's Letters to Jennifer (2004), and a science fiction thriller for young readers, Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment (2005). As of 2006, he lives with his wife and son in Palm Beach County, Florida, and is focusing on his writing.
Chapter 1: Katie
Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas opens in Katie Wilkinson's apartment in New York. She is reading a diary as she lingers in a bath. Having finished the volume, she becomes upset about what she has just read. Katie feels that she can visualize Suzanne, the author of the diary, and her infant son Nicholas. Katie also reflects on Matt, the man who was her serious boyfriend until a few days earlier. Matt was husband to Suzanne and father to Nicholas.
The reader learns that Katie received the diary on July 19. On that morning, Katie had caught the first launch of the Circle Line boat tour around Manhattan Island, a boat ride she and Matt had taken many times during their relationship. On this particular morning Katie is both sad and angry, still processing the abrupt end of her relationship with Matt.
Katie reflects on her bond with Matt. During their relationship, she felt that she could tell him everything and that they had many interests in common. She also remembers that Matt was quite thoughtful. She wonders how she could have misread him so badly: He ended their relationship when she thought he was on the verge of proposing to her. She has been living in New York, while he lives and works on Martha's Vineyard. She thinks she missed a sign foreshadowing trouble, because he never let her visit him on Martha's Vineyard.
After sobbing on the deck of the boat, Katie decides to return home instead of going to work. When she arrives at her apartment, she sees a package at her door. Katie recognizes Matt's handwriting on the package and becomes upset. Inside is the diary, with "Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas" written on the front. Katie realizes that this is the diary of Matt's wife. Matt would not speak to Katie about his past or about Suzanne other than to say that they were no longer married. Matt has enclosed a note to Katie, in which he takes responsibility for what went wrong in their relationship. He admits that he loves Katie and offers the diary as an explanation of his feelings.
Chapter 2: The Diary
This section opens with the first pages of Suzanne's diary. Suzanne begins writing to her infant son Nicholas when he is two weeks old. Suzanne starts to tell Nicholas how she ended up at this point on her life.
A few years earlier, Suzanne had lived in Boston, where she was a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her job was demanding but she found solace in walking her golden retriever, Gus. While walking Gus in the Boston Public Garden after a long shift at the hospital, Gus ran off chasing a duck. Running after him, Suzanne suddenly felt intense pain and collapsed. She later learned that she had suffered a heart attack, and she was unable to work for two months. During this time, Suzanne reflected on her family's history of heart disease and faced the fact that she had ignored her health.
Addressing her son, Suzanne emphasizes a story she heard from another doctor. In this story, life is described as a game in which five balls are juggled: work, family, friends, integrity, and health; only work is a rubber ball that can bounce back, while the other balls are glass. These four glass balls can be easily and permanently damaged. She tells Nicholas that the story is ultimately about keeping balance in one's life and that she finally understood this lesson after her heart attack.
In another entry, Suzanne continues to tell Nicholas about her life before meeting Matt. Her parents died when she was two, and her loving grandparents raised her. She tells Nicholas about her boyfriend in Boston, Dr. Michael Bernstein. The couple seemed to have much in common, including a love of work. However, about a month after her heart attack, Michael informs Suzanne that their relationship is over. Though Suzanne is hurt, she believes that she has not been living the life she was meant to live. She quits her job and moves to Martha's Vineyard, where she had spent many happy summers with her grandparents.
Suzanne feels more relaxed as she establishes a new life on Martha's Vineyard. She buys a medical practice from a doctor who is moving to Chicago and begins seeing patients within a few months. She later joins the staffs of Martha's Vineyard Hospital and a local medical clinic. Suzanne also begins looking for a new house, eventually settling on an old boathouse that needs a few repairs.
Suzanne gets a flat tire on her way home from the hospital one night. While proud that she would be capable of changing it herself, she does not have a spare tire in the car, having taken it out when she moved. While Suzanne waits for a local mechanic to arrive, a handsome man driving a Jaguar stops to help. He is Matt Wolfe, someone she dated one summer as a teenager. Matt asks her for a date just as the repair truck shows up, and the two share a pleasant evening together that weekend. The next day, the housepainter Suzanne has hired to help fix up her house leaves her some wildflowers and a note asking her on a casual date. She politely turns him down, and he takes the answer well. She calls the housepainter "Picasso."
In her next entry, Suzanne writes more directly to Nicholas. She tells her son how much she loves him and how important he is to her. Suzanne also tells him how alert he was from the first moment. She describes how intently he looked at his father, Matt, right after he was born.
Chapter 3: Katie
Katie puts the journal down, distraught over what she has just read. She decides that she likes Suzanne, and she admires the choices that Suzanne has made. But Katie is also angry at Matt because of the information he has withheld. Though he swore he was not married, Katie wonders if Matt has been cheating on his wife. Katie recalls July 18, the day he left. She prepared a special meal for him and planned several surprises. She gave him the first copy of his book of poetry, published by her company. Then Matt broke up with her and left before she could tell him that she was pregnant with his child.
Chapter 4: The Diary
In the next section of the diary, Suzanne picks up the story of her early days on the Vineyard and emphasizes the importance of the five balls. She talks about taking Gus for long walks and befriending her next-door neighbor Melanie Bone, the mother of four young girls. Suzanne then describes a party she attended with Matt. Many of its guests are from New York, and the event reminds her of parties she went to in Boston. Suzanne feels uncomfortable and out of place.
Soon after this party, Suzanne decides to eat at a local restaurant after a long day of work. While eating, she sees "Picasso" sitting by himself. He has continued to work on the house, but she has not seen him much. Suzanne decides to talk to him on her way out. He invites her to sit down and have dessert, and reluctantly she does. They have an engaging conversation and she is surprised to realize how much time has passed. At the end of the entry, Suzanne tells Nicholas that this man, Matthew Harrison, is his father.
A few days later, Suzanne is at home while her housepainter is working on the roof. She invites him in for a cold drink. While helping him fix a broken flower trellis, she feels an attraction to him and invites him to stay for dinner. Time again passes quickly for them. When he leaves, he asks her out for dinner the next night and she agrees to go. The pair explore Martha's Vineyard and surrounding areas over the next couple of days. Suzanne writes about how comfortable she felt with him and how much she enjoyed spending time with him. They continue to see each other almost daily for several weeks. Suzanne calls Matt Wolfe several times but he never calls back. She assumes he has heard gossip about her new relationship and moved on.
Chapter 5: Katie
Katie describes seeing Matt for the first time, when he came to her office to talk about his book project. She greatly enjoyed his poetry collection, Songs of a Housepainter, and was even more attracted to the man himself. That night, they went out to eat and to a jazz club. The next day, they left her office for lunch and spent the rest of the day together. He spent the night with her that night and became her lover.
Chapter 6: The Diary
Suzanne resumes her story for Nicholas about his parents' developing relationship. One day, Matt takes Suzanne and Gus to meet his mother Jean. A longtime widow, Jean shares a close relationship with her son. At Jean's house, Suzanne learns that Matt's father died when Matt was a boy and that he prefers not to share much about his grief. Jean tells Suzanne that Matt's introducing the two of them indicates his seriousness about her. Suzanne admits to Nicholas that she was falling for his father by this point. After a date at a nightclub, she goes to Matt's home for the first time, where he is already working on his collection of poetry. The pair make love in his room. Suzanne emphasizes to Nicholas how important love is.
A short time later, Matt Wolfe stops by Suzanne's house. He has been in Thailand working for most of the month. Suzanne tells him about her new relationship, and he charmingly accepts defeat. Suzanne later admits to Melanie how in love with Matt Harrison she is. Melanie talks about pregnancy and motherhood that day, and Suzanne confesses to Nicholas that despite her heart condition she was dreaming of motherhood.
Suzanne next tells Nicholas about a tragedy. Gus is hit by a speeding driver on the road in front of her house and has to be put to sleep. She writes, "Bad stuff does happen sometimes, Nicholas. Always remember that, but remember that you have to move on, somehow." A few days later, Suzanne tells Matt about her heart attack and related heart condition. He has already heard through the island gossip grapevine but has been waiting for her to tell him. Matt then asks Suzanne to marry him, and she accepts his proposal.
Chapter 7: Katie
Katie becomes emotional and has to stop reading the diary again. At first she felt sympathy for Suzanne, but now she is jealous. Katie remembers the night she got pregnant and recalls feeling that Matt loved her and was ready to confide in her. She does not understand how Matt could break off their relationship as they were becoming so close. Katie calls her mother the next day and tells her about the diary, but cannot manage to tell her about the pregnancy. She then calls Matt and leaves a message telling him that she is reading the diary.
Chapter 8: The Diary
In the next entry, Suzanne describes her wedding to Matt on New Year's Eve. She writes that it was perfect and magical and that she felt very happy and lucky. The couple go to Hawaii for their honeymoon, where the phrase, "Isn't it lucky?" becomes their mantra. Soon after their return Suzanne realizes that she is pregnant. Matt and Suzanne are thrilled and begin filling their home with things for the coming baby. As the pregnancy goes on, Suzanne becomes sure that she will be a great mother.
One night at dinner Suzanne thinks she is having contractions, though her due date is weeks away. At the hospital, her doctor diagnoses dangerously high blood pressure and says she will induce labor if it does not improve within a few hours. The situation worsens and requires an emergency caesarian section to protect the mother and baby.
Chapter 9: Katie
Katie stops reading again and is trying to figure out the situation with Matt and Suzanne. Katie wonders where Suzanne is and continues to wonder about Matt's reasons for ending his relationship with Katie. She considers trying to call Suzanne to find out the answers. Katie then calls her parents and tells them she is pregnant. They are supportive as they comfort Katie.
Chapter 10: The Diary
Suzanne tells her son how he acted during his first few weeks of life. By two weeks of age, he was sleeping regularly through the night and starting to hold his head up. The diary shifts from past to present tense as Suzanne returns to work and continues to write to Nicholas about their lives. She spends much of her time thinking about her son and misses him when she is at work. She knows she is lucky to have him. She describes a moment that she, Nicholas, and Matt share in the nursery, when Matt tells her that she and the baby are his whole world.
Suzanne and Nicholas take a trip to Boston to get medical check-ups when Nicholas is a few months old. Suzanne visits Dr. Phil Berman, who is concerned about the results of her physical. Dr. Berman sends Suzanne to see her Boston-based cardiologist Gail Davis. Dr. Davis tells Suzanne that she has weakness in two of her heart valves. This condition is causing her heart not to pump blood as well as it should. Suzanne gets more tests when she returns home to Martha's Vineyard.
A month later, Suzanne has learned that she has heart valve disease which will be treated with radiation. Suzanne still feels lucky about all she has in her life. Some time later, she realizes that she is pregnant again. When she tells Matt, they agree that she must be careful. Her cardiologist on Martha's Vineyard recommends she visit Dr. Davis, which she does without telling Matt. When Suzanne returns home, she tells Matt that Dr. Davis believes it is too risky for her to remain pregnant.
When Matt tells Suzanne that he supports Dr. Davis's position, Suzanne gets very upset. She leaves the house and spends time alone on the beach, wondering if it is foolish to want a second baby. When she returns, she knocks at the door and kneels on the step as she asks for forgiveness. Matt tells her there is nothing to forgive and that he does not think he could live if something happened to her.
A few days later, Suzanne returns home after working for a few hours and starts feeling dizzy. She has an appointment concerning her pregnancy with Connie, her local doctor, the next day. When Matt comes home, he insists they go to see Connie immediately. Connie advises Suzanne to stop working and focus on resting.
Suzanne's next entry is a month later, and Nicholas is now eleven months old. She has taken time off to focus on her health and her son, but she is very tired. Connie calls with the results of her latest blood tests and insists that she check into the hospital right away. After tucking Nicholas in, Suzanne starts to walk downstairs when she loses consciousness. Matt finds her at the foot of the stairs and takes her to the hospital.
In the critical care unit, Connie informs Suzanne that she is suffering from toxemia, which causes her heart, liver, and kidneys not to work properly. Suzanne starts having convulsions and hemorrhaging. Later, Suzanne learns that she has lost the baby. Many people visit her in her hospital room, though she drifts in and out of full consciousness. She realizes that people believe she is dying.
Chapter 11: Katie
Katie stops reading again. She can only read a few pages at a time because of the emotional toll the diary takes on her. Craving the comfort of friends, she calls a married friend, Lynn Brown, and offers to babysit her four children that night. Lynn takes her up on the offer, and Katie travels to the Browns' home in Westport, Connecticut. Katie enjoys her time with the Browns and tells Lynn about her pregnancy before leaving the next afternoon.
Rejuvenated, Katie is able to read the diary again. She begins to see how the lesson of the five balls relates to her own life. Katie realizes that although she is successful, her life is unbalanced and she has never really fit in New York. Friends accompany her to see her doctor, who assures her that she will be a wonderful mother.
Chapter 12: The Diary
The next entry is written on the day Suzanne comes home from the hospital. She is very happy to be alive. Soon after, she writes about Nicholas's first trip to the ocean and describes some of the emerging characteristics of his personality. A few weeks into her recovery, Matt surprises her by taking them on a three-day weekend vacation. Matt arranges for some surprise improvements to the house while they are away.
Suzanne's last entries focus on Nicholas's first birthday. She plans to give him some framed pictures from their vacation. Just after midnight on his birthday, she and Matt sneak into the nursery to celebrate with their sleeping child. Later that night, Matt falls asleep after they make love, and Suzanne gets up to write this, her last entry.
Chapter 13: Matthew
Matthew writes the last entries in the journal. He tells his son how much he loves him and that something has happened to Suzanne on the previous day. She had taken Nicholas with her to pick up the photographs she was having framed. While driving there, she had a heart attack, crashed the car, and died. Matthew tells his son about how great his mother was and how much he loved her.
In the next entry, Matthew tells Nicholas about the death of his own father when he was only eight years old. Because of this unexpected death, Matthew spent much of life fearing another such loss. Matthew expresses the pain and guilt he feels because Nicholas has died in the accident, too. He ends by telling his son how much he loved him and misses him and writes that he was lucky to have known him.
Chapter 14: Katie
Katie is again in the bathtub, crying over the end of the diary. She finds a letter addressed to her taped inside of it. In the letter Matt tells her that these are the secrets he has been keeping from her and that he has been too devastated to be consoled. Katie goes to Martha's Vineyard to find Matt. After looking in a tavern he once mentioned to her, Katie visits Suzanne's and Nicholas's graves. She notes that the pair died on July 18, 1999, two years before the date Matt broke up with her. Katie then goes to Matt and Suzanne's home. She meets Melanie Bone, who knows who Katie is and tells her that Matthew does love her.
Katie returns to New York and to her job, pondering her future. About a week later, Katie's assistant, Mary Jordan, tells her to look out the window, where she sees Matt kneeling in front of her office building. She goes to him and kneels in front of him. He compliments her beauty and tells her he is ready to commit to her totally. Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas ends with Katie and Matt's wedding. She understands the "precious glass balls" of family, health, friends, and integrity, and looks forward to having Matt's baby. She thinks, "Isn't it lucky."
Dan is a pediatrician in Boston and Suzanne's old friend. She takes Nicholas to him for a checkup when the baby is only a few months old.
Suzanne Bedford Harrison
Suzanne is a central character in the novel and the primary author of the diary Katie reads. She is the wife of Matt Harrison and the mother of Nicholas Harrison. A petite blonde, Suzanne works as a doctor, first in Boston and later on Martha's Vineyard. In her diary, Suzanne describes her life for her infant son. She writes that she was orphaned at the age of two and raised by her grandparents. She went to the best schools, including Harvard Medical School. While working as a doctor in Boston, she has a romantic relationship with another doctor, Michael Bernstein, and loves spending time with her dog, Gus. Her life is put in perspective when she has a heart attack in Boston.
During her recovery, Suzanne's boyfriend breaks up with her, telling her that he does not believe she can have children and that he has found someone else. She decides that she will move to Martha's Vineyard, where she spent many happy summers with her grandparents. Suzanne buys a house near the ocean, practices medicine on the island and enjoys her life. After briefly dating Matthew Wolfe, whom she once dated as a teenager, Suzanne becomes deeply involved with Matthew Harrison. The latter Matthew is a house painter/handyman/poet whom she has hired to help fix up her new house. They marry and soon have a son.
Suzanne appreciates every day she has with her husband and son, but begins to suffer heart-related problems. She becomes pregnant again, which only makes her heart problems worse, and she nearly dies of toxemia. During her recovery she remains focused on the positives in her life. However, while driving her son to a shop to pick up one of his first birthday presents, Suzanne suffers a heart attack and dies. Her son dies in the resulting crash.
Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas was adapted for a television movie titled James Patterson's Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas. It aired on CBS on March 27, 2005, and starred Christina Applegate as Suzanne, Jonathan Schaech as Matt Harrison, and Kathleen Rose Perkins as Katie. The movie was written and directed by Richard Friedenberg.
Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas was released as an audiobook by Time Warner Audiobooks in 2001. It is narrated by Becky Ann Baker.
Phil is Suzanne's doctor in Boston. On a trip to Boston with Nicholas, she gets a checkup from him. He is the first to notice that something is wrong with her heart and insists that she visits her Boston-based cardiologist, Dr. Gail Davis.
Michael Bernstein is Suzanne's boyfriend early in her story when she lives in Boston. Like Suzanne, Michael works at a hospital in Boston. In her diary, Suzanne tells Nicholas that she met Michael at the 1996 wedding of John Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette, and that their relationship lasted for the next four years. Suzanne confesses that while they were involved, she thought they had much in common, including a love of work. Michael breaks off their relationship about a month after her heart attack.
Melanie is Suzanne's next-door neighbor on Martha's Vineyard. A petite and organized mother of four daughters, Melanie is Suzanne's friend and confidant during her time on the island. After Suzanne's death, Melanie helps Katie when she comes to the Vineyard looking for Matt. Melanie tells Katie that Matt has fallen in love with her and urges her not to give up on their relationship.
Lynn is a friend of Katie. Lynn lives with her husband Phil and their four children on a farm in Westport, Connecticut. As Katie continues to read Suzanne's diary, she feels that she needs to be around Lynn's family, so she babysits the children one evening.
Dr. Cotter, called Connie by Suzanne, is Suzanne's medical doctor on Martha's Vineyard. When Suzanne unexpectedly has labor pains, Connie takes charge of the situation, informs Suzanne about her medical problems, and delivers Nicholas. Connie also helps in Suzanne's care related to her heart condition and takes charge of the dangerous situation surrounding her second pregnancy. Connie saves Suzanne's life after she suffers from toxemia. Near the end of the novel, Matt reports that Connie told him Suzanne suffered a massive heart attack and probably died instantly.
Gail is Suzanne's cardiologist in Boston. After a physical from Dr. Phil Berman, he insists that Suzanne visit the cardiologist immediately. It is Gail who detects the weaknesses in two of Suzanne's heart valves, which have to be treated. Gail works with Suzanne's doctors on Martha's Vineyard to ensure she gets proper care. When Suzanne tells Gail that she is pregnant again, Gail tells Suzanne that she should not have the baby.
Guinevere is Katie's pet Persian cat.
Gustavus, or "Gus," is Suzanne's beloved golden retriever. He is the light of her life in Boston and comes with her when she moves to Martha's Vineyard. Gus dies tragically at the age of fourteen, killed by a speeding pickup truck outside Suzanne's house.
Jean is Matt's mother, a widow. She is a painter and lives alone on Martha's Vineyard. Jean has a close relationship with her son. After her grandson Nicholas is born she babysits regularly.
Nicholas is the son of Suzanne Bedford and Matthew Harrison. A blond, curly-haired baby, he is beloved by both his parents. In her diary, she records her observations about her growing son. She calls him "Nicholas the Warrior" on several occasions. Born under difficult circumstances, Nicholas is a healthy, happy child until his death in a car crash with his mother on his first birthday, July 18, 1999.
Matthew Harrison is a central character in Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas. He is Suzanne's husband and Nicholas's father. He later becomes Katie's boyfriend. While Matt makes his living as a housepainter and handyman on Martha's Vineyard, he loves books and writes poetry. He is publishing his first collection, Songs of a Housepainter, through Katie's publishing house.
Like Suzanne and Nicholas, Matt is tragic figure in the novel. As an eight-year old child, he suffered the unexpected death of his father. Matt waits until he is in his thirties to marry, in part because he fears another such loss. He falls deeply in love with Suzanne, and he is a kind and generous husband to her. Though he is heartbroken at the deaths of his wife and son, he also acknowledges how much he loved the time he did have with them.
After their deaths, Matt becomes involved with Katie, his editor. As with Suzanne, Matt is a generous, caring boyfriend. However, he breaks off his relationship with Katie on the second anniversary of the deaths of Suzanne and Nicholas. He gives Katie Suzanne's diary so she can better understand the past that he has not been able to talk about. Days later, he shows up outside of her office, kneeling as he waits for her. He tells her he loves her, rekindles their relationship, and promises not to leave again. The couple eventually marry.
Katie's father is a minister in North Carolina. Initially unhappy with his daughter's decision to move to New York City, he becomes supportive of her life and career. Both he and his wife comfort Katie when she tells them that she is pregnant.
Mary is Katie's assistant at the publishing house. Mary is the one who points out Matt kneeling on the sidewalk outside of the office building.
Susan is one of Katie's best friends. Early in Katie's pregnancy, Susan goes to the doctor with Katie to provide moral support.
Merlin is Katie's dog, a black Labrador retriever.
Laurie is one of Katie's best friends. While Katie is conflicted about her pregnancy, Laurie goes to the doctor with Katie to provide moral support.
Albert K. Sassoon
Dr. Sassoon is Katie's gynecologist in New York. It is during her appointment with him that she decides she wants to have the baby. Dr. Sassoon comforts her and assures her that she will be a great mother.
Holly is Katie's mother. She lives with Katie's father in Asheboro, North Carolina, and works as a first grade teacher. Katie calls her mother several times when she is upset about the contents of the diary and the end of her relationship with Matt. Like her husband, Katie's mother is very supportive of and comforting to her daughter.
Katie is one of the central characters in Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas. Patterson describes Katie as a six-foot-tall woman who always wears her long hair in a braid. She is someone who feels "gawky" but whose friends call her "breathtaking, stunning in her strength." Katie is a native of North Carolina but lives in New York City, where she works as an editor at a publishing house. Through her work she meets Matt Harrison, a poet whose first book she is working on. The two become involved in an intimate relationship.
At the beginning of the novel, Katie is reading the diary Matt left for her after he has abruptly ended their relationship. Katie is confused by Matt's action because the couple seemed to be headed toward marriage. As Katie reads the diary, written by Matt's wife Suzanne for their son Nicholas, she wonders if Matt has been using her to cheat on his wife, and she wonders where his wife and son are now. Katie also has personal problems of her own, as she was about to tell Matt that she is pregnant with his child on the evening he broke up with her.
By the novel's end, Katie realizes that Matt has left her the diary in order to explain the past that he has been unable to reveal or talk about. She also learns life lessons from what Suzanne has written. After Katie understands that Suzanne and Nicholas died in tragic car accident, she needs to talk to Matt and goes to Martha's Vineyard looking for him. She does not find him there but she does learn that Matt has told others he loves her. He later shows up outside her office building. The couple reconciles and become engaged. They marry in Katie's home state of North Carolina.
Matt Wolfe was Suzanne's boyfriend when the pair were teenagers summering on Martha's Vineyard. As an adult, he works as a fine art dealer and a lawyer for the Environmental Protection Agency. He moves back to Martha's Vineyard two years before Suzanne does. They reconnect after Suzanne moves back to the Vineyard. He comes across her one night as she waits for a local tow truck to help her with a flat tire. The pair briefly date before Suzanne becomes involved with Matthew Harrison.
Love and Loss
Love and loss is a central theme in Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas. All of the major characters, as well as many of the minor ones, have to deal with the loss of an important love in their lives. These losses have profound effects on those characters left behind. Matt Harrison, for example, avoids getting married for many years because of his grief over his father's death when Matt was a child. Matt fears that he will also suddenly lose the woman he loves. Unfortunately, his greatest fear comes true when he falls in love with Suzanne, a woman in her thirties with heart problems. She dies within two years of their wedding when she suffers a massive heart attack while driving with their son on his first birthday. While Matt is able to move on and start a serious relationship with Katie, he is unable to tell Katie about his past. On the anniversary of the deaths, Matt abruptly ends the relationship with Katie because of his grief. Though he allows her a chance to understand what happened through Suzanne's diary and he reconciles with Katie, Matt still carries the scars of his past lost loves.
Throughout much of the novel, Katie also has to deal with love and loss in her life. She has been seriously involved with Matt and has become pregnant by him, though he does not know about the pregnancy. Katie believes they are close to becoming engaged when he unexpectedly ends their relationship. The breakup sends Katie reeling emotionally as she searches for answers and understanding. As Katie reads Suzanne's diary, she becomes even more confused by her relationship with Matt and wonders if she ever had the love she thought she did. Reading through the diary allows her to understand what Matt has lost. By the end of the novel, both Matt and Katie are redeemed, with Matt able to move past his grief and commit to truly loving Katie.
The Meaning of Life
Another key element to Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas is the meaning of life. In Suzanne's diary to her baby, she repeatedly emphasizes what she has come to understand is truly important in life. Early in the diary, she explains the story of the five balls—her personal understanding of the meaning of life:
Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you're keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls—family, health, friends, integrity—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered. And once you truly understand the lesson of the five balls, you will have the beginnings of balance in your life.
Throughout her diary, Suzanne emphasizes the importance of this balance and repeats the lessons of the five balls. After her heart attack in a Boston park at the age of thirty-five, she strives to keep her priorities straight and live a balanced life. She leaves an overwhelming, hectic life in Boston for a slower-paced existence on Martha's Vineyard. She finds satisfaction in her much smaller professional life, and she finds love in an unexpected place. The result is a wonderful marriage with Matt and a beautiful son, Nicholas. Though Suzanne ultimately suffers more health problems and dies, she is content until the very end. She makes the most of every day she is alive.
When Katie reads Suzanne's diary she gains an understanding of what Matt has lost. Katie also sees that she lacks balance in her own life and comes to understand the true meaning of life. The author writes, "Immersing herself in someone else's reality had made Katie reexamine things that she had been doing on autopilot for the past nine years." Like Suzanne, Katie is living a fast-paced life in a big city but comes to understand that she does not really belong there:
Her life had been out of balance for such a long time. She had spent so many late nights at work or at home, reading and editing manuscripts, trying to make them as good as they could be. Rewarding work, but work was a rubber ball, right? Family, health, friends, and integrity were the precious glass ones.
This understanding helps Katie decide that she will fight for her relationship with Matt and keep the baby no matter what happens with that relationship. On the last page of the book, Patterson writes of Katie, "She understood it now."
Importance of Family
Underscoring much of the story in Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas is the role of family, one of the balls Suzanne believes is key to living a balanced life. Though Matt's mother appears only briefly in the story, Patterson makes it clear that she has a close relationship with her son. Later, after Nicholas is born, Suzanne mentions in her diary that Jean takes care of her grandson regularly. Suzanne herself was orphaned at the age of two, and one of the reasons she loves Martha's Vineyard so much is because of the many childhood summers she spent there with the grandparents who raised her. She writes of them lovingly, mentioning that her grandfather walked her down the aisle when she married Matt, and that Nicholas wore a family christening gown when he was baptized. The family Suzanne has with Matt and Nicholas is fulfilling to her and the most important thing in her life until its end.
Family is just as important to Katie. She calls her parents twice in the novel and relies on them for support during her breakup with Matt. Though she is afraid to tell them that she is pregnant, when she does she receives nothing but support. Just after Katie tells them about the baby, "Katie's mother and father were already comforting her, saying, "It's all right, Katie, we love you, we're with you, we understand." Later, when Katie needs a break from her life in New York as she reads Suzanne's diary, she seeks the comfort of a family: "She needed to be with the Browns." She offers to babysit the four Brown kids so that Lynn Brown and her husband can have a night out together. Katie spends about twenty-four hours on the Brown farm, and when she returns to New York, "She was exhausted, but she also felt alive again, rejuvenated—better, anyway…. She believed in families."
In Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, Patterson tells a story within a story. Katie's narrative serves as a framing device. When the novel opens, Katie has just finished reading a diary and is upset by what she has read. After Patterson introduces the reader to Katie and her crisis, he flashes back to a related story which is revealed to Katie as it is revealed to the reader. It is a diary written by Suzanne Harrison, in which she explains her life to her infant son Nicholas. The two stories are linked by both women's involvement with Matt Harrison. The diary ends with two entries written by Matt after his wife's death, which lead the way back the frame story and the resolution of Katie's narrative.
Throughout the novel, Patterson cuts back and forth between the two stories, allowing readers to compare and contrast the lives of Katie and Suzanne. Much of the text is composed of Suzanne's journal entries. This structure allows the reader to gain understanding about Matt and Suzanne's relationship as Katie does. Each time Patterson returns to Katie's story, she processes what she has learned and acts on it in her own life. By the end of the diary, Katie understands Matt's past and the pain he has gone through. The novel then ends as it begins—focused on Katie—and resolves the dilemma she has been facing in her relationship with Matt. The double narrative builds suspense and gives the reader a deeper understanding of the conflicts in Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas.
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- Research the stages of grief and how people respond to the deaths of close family members or friends. Write a paper in which you examine how your findings relate to the events in the novel. You may also consider your own experiences in dealing with the loss of someone important in your life.
- Keep a diary for a specific period of time—at least one month—noting what you appreciate in your own life and what could make your life more balanced. Share your insights with a small group.
- Do research into the phenomenon of downshifting, downsizing, or simplifying within a specific area of American culture, such as corporations, personal lives, etc. Write a paper in which you explain your findings and offer your own feelings on the subject.
- Read another fictional account of personal tragedy, such as The Horse Whisperer, by Nicholas Evans, or The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy. Compare and contrast that book with Patterson's novel, focusing on how the authors handle the tragic situation and its effect on the surviving characters in the book.
- Analyze the poems written by the character Matt Harrison in the text of Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas. How do the poems reflect the novel's themes? Are they effective outside the context of the story?
Point of View
Related to Patterson's use of a double narrative is the change in point of view as the two stories alternate. The sections entitled "Katie" are written in an omniscient third person. That is, Patterson uses an all-knowing perspective that allows readers to see Katie's actions and the thoughts inside her mind as well as the actions of others outside her point of view. In contrast, the sections entitled "The Diary" and "Matthew" are diary entries written in the first person. Each entry is addressed to the couple's infant son and expresses the thoughts of its author, either Suzanne or Matt. Using first-person narration in these sections limits the amount of information Suzanne and Matt reveal; Suzanne and Matt only tell what they want to tell. Suzanne's first-person narrrative gives both Katie and the reader insight into Suzanne's personality and what she meant to Matt. Patterson's use of two points of view emphasizes the differences in Katie's and Suzanne's stories while allowing readers to sympathize with both women. Katie's dilemmas are clear throughout the story because they are presented in omniscient third person, while both Katie and the reader gradually learn about Suzanne through Suzanne's own thoughts and words.
In Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, Patterson uses motifs to underscore the novel's themes and link the novel's two narratives together. The most prominent motif is a metaphor Suzanne writes about in her journal entries for her son, which she introduces in her second entry. Describing her heart attack at the age of thirty-five and the effect it had on her life, Suzanne relates the story of the five balls. Each ball represents an aspect of life—work, family, health, integrity, and friends—that a person must juggle. Work is only a rubber ball, and it will bounce back if dropped. The other four are glass balls which must be treated with more care in order to prevent permanent damage. Only a balanced life allows one to successfully manage the balls. At the end of the entry, Suzanne writes to Nicholas that she "finally understood" the meaning behind the five balls.
The phrase "isn't it lucky" is also a motif in the novel. All three of the main characters use it at one point or another, but it is Suzanne who writes it most often in her diary entries for Nicholas. After being orphaned at the age of two and suffering a heart attack at thirty-five, Suzanne is not a character that most would describe as fortunate, but she cherishes every gift life gives her. She recognizes the things she is lucky to have: her education, her husband, her baby, her extra time with Nicholas as her illness forces her to work less, and her awareness of life's fragility. Suzanne records Matt's remarks to her—that he is lucky she did not die in Boston and that she came into his life. After losing his wife and child, Matt first writes that he wishes he could feel lucky again, but soon acknowledges that knowing Nicholas at all was lucky. In contrast to Suzanne, Katie has never known the loss of a parent or serious ill health. In the last line of the novel, after reading the diary and internalizing the lesson of the five balls, Katie thinks, "Isn't it lucky," as she appreciates the gifts she has been given.
Heart Disease in Women
Throughout Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, Suzanne suffers from heart problems. She has a heart attack at the age of thirty-five followed by heart bypass surgery. While pregnant with Nicholas, she suffers from preeclampsia which forces a caesarian delivery of the baby. During Suzanne's second pregnancy, her heart problems return. She is diagnosed with valve disease, but cannot undergo valve replacement surgery while pregnant. Toxemia leads to a miscarriage of her second child. Suzanne eventually succumbs to her heart ailments and dies when she has a second heart attack while driving, resulting in a car crash that kills Nicholas, too.
Some of Suzanne's heart problems are unusual for a woman her age. While heart disease is the leading cause of death of American women, killing one in three of them, heart attacks usually afflict women much older than thirty-five. Of the nearly 435,000 women in the United States who have heart attacks each year, only 9,000 are under the age of forty-five. The average age of women who have a heart attack is over seventy. Still, 267,000 women die each year from heart attacks, six times the number that die from breast cancer. Women are much less likely than men to survive heart attacks.
While lifestyle can increase risk factors for heart disease, family history is also an important indicator. Suzanne made many of the positive lifestyle choices which should have reduced her risk of heart disease: She exercised regularly, maintained a healthy weight, and did not smoke. The fact that she needed a bypass indicates that she suffered from coronary heart disease. Coronary artery disease and heart attacks can lead to heart valve disease. There are two types of heart valve disease: regurgitation, which involves the improper closing of a valve; and stenosis, when the amount of blood allowed through the valve is restricted because of limited opening. Surgery is the only way to fully correct valve disease because medications can treat but not cure it.
Being pregnant while suffering from heart disease can be risky and lead to complications, although women with previously healthy hearts may also have vascular complications while pregnant. Suzanne suffered from preeclampsia during her first pregnancy. This disorder occurs in 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies, usually during the late second or third trimester, and is one of the leading causes of death in mothers and infants around the world. Its primary characteristics are high blood pressure, swelling which does not go down, and the presence of a significant amount of protein in the urine. Preeclampsia can limit the placenta's ability to get enough blood thus limiting the amount of nutrients the fetus receives. It can lead to organ failure, seizure, and coma for the mother, and can be deadly for both mother and child. Preeclampsia is also sometimes called toxemia, or "toxemia of pregnancy." True toxemia is toxic blood poisoning and is usually caused by bacteria in the blood. It is a very serious condition that can rapidly result in shock and death if untreated.
Also known as "Voluntary Simplicity," a "simplicity movement" emerged in the late 1980s in the United States after the stock market crash of 1987. The simplicity movement gained steam throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. As part of this movement, people sought to simplify their lives by rejecting the need to embrace every technological advance. Adherents focused on creating satisfying family and personal relationships and finding fulfillment in everyday life through balance. This was not the first time Americans have attempted to reject the pressures of modern life through major lifestyle changes. Henry David Thoreau's two-year retreat from Concord to Walden Pond is regarded as a nineteenth-century precursor to twentieth-century simplicity movements. Another prominent simplicity movement occurred in the 1960s as "hippies" distanced themselves from mainstream society with the counterculture movement.
At the end of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first century, it was primarily middle- to upper-class people overwhelmed by work and consumer culture who embraced the simplicity movement. In many cases, these people lived in major urban areas where such pressures were amplified. In order to live more simply they often shed unnecessary possessions, limited their spending, and/or chose jobs based on satisfaction rather than salary. Some adherents of voluntary simplicity grew their own food and others moved to rural communities. Many books were published to help people who wanted to create simplicity in their lives, such as Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, A Circle of Simplicity by Cecile Andrews, and The Simple Living Guide: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living by Janet Luhrs. A magazine focusing on simplicity was launched in 2001, Real Simple.
Those who adopted voluntary simplicity hoped it would make for a better life for subsequent generations. Joseph Beckenbach III, a contractor/software engineer who practiced simplicity, told Silja J.A. Talvi of the Christian Science Monitor, "Excessive consumption is causing a world of hurt. For me, [voluntary simplicity] is a way of having a grand vision of how I want the future to be, and to be able to tie that to real actions that I can do from day to day."
Martha's Vineyard is a small island off the coast of Massachusetts, best known as a summer resort for the wealthy and the famous. About fifteen hundred people live in the six small communities on the hundred-square-mile island year-round. A number of the year-round residents of Martha's Vineyard work in the fishing industry or as organic farmers.
At the height of the summer tourist season, Martha's Vineyard's population increases to nearly 100,000. Many summer visitors come from nearby urban areas; the island is about 80 miles from Boston and 150 miles from New York City. One attraction on the island is the Flying Horses Carousel, which appears in Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas. It features wooden horses hand-carved in 1876 and is believed to be the oldest operating carousel in the United States.
Because Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas was Patterson's first romance novel, many critics judged it against the style of his previous works. A few critics, like Kristine Huntley of Booklist, felt that the novel stands up to the comparison well. Generally praising the book, Huntley noted the "fast-paced suspense in this love story." She also wrote, "Patterson's fans will find the familiar short chapters and surprising twists that they've come to expect from him, while those just looking for a good love story will find it here, too." Similarly, the reviewer in Publishers Weekly praised Patterson's ability to plot a romance novel and build suspense: "So how good is the novel? Good enough to lightly pluck the heartstrings and to impress with its craft—and its calculation."
However, most critics were dismissive of Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas. Margaret Hanes of the Library Journal labeled the novel "sickeningly sentimental" and predicted it "will undoubtedly disappoint and puzzle his die-hard thriller fans." While Jennifer Braunschweiger of Book believed it was good summer reading, she also argued that the book is "rather cheesy." Along similar lines, Curt Schleier of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stated, "It's fluff. It's popcorn. There's not a real-life character anywhere between its covers."
Some critics regarded Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas as a typical work of romance fiction that uses conventions of the genre to manipulate its readers emotionally. Reviewing the book in the Mirror, Andrea Henry wrote,
Patterson is heavy handed about luck having a tendency to run out and disaster being just around the corner. What keeps the pages turning is trying to work out what sort of disaster it'll be. In the end, it's pure Happy Ever After stuff. This is a whimsical romance, a naive and cheesy fairytale that's more American than cherry pie. It'll either make your heart sigh or your stomach heave.
Others argued that the diary itself is not particularly well written. Noting that the story lacks detail and Patterson left in many sentence fragments, Brian Bulita of the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service also commented,
The problem is that the diary reads like … well, a diary written by someone who is not a best-selling author. While this makes the diary realistic, it does not result in a scintillating reading experience. Eventually, the bland writing in the diary taints the rest of the novel.
Though such critics were dismissive of Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, Patterson himself likes the novel and appreciates its power for readers, who have purchased more than a million copies. In an article written by Lev Grossman of Time, Patterson called it "a treacly, overly sentimental love story that I just adore. It's responsible for more letters, by far, than anything else I've written."
Petrusso is a history and screenwriting scholar and freelance writer and editor. In this essay, she discusses how Patterson creates parallels between several characters in Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas to add to the emotional power of his book.
Stories within stories are as old as literature. Instead of presenting an unbuffered narrative, a "framed" work of fiction gives the story of the storyteller along with his or her tale. When the purpose of the secondary story is to bear witness (as in The Odyssey) or allow skepticism (as in The Canterbury Tales), the framing plotline fades into the background. Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, and Heart of Darkness are all classic frame tales in which a character tells a fantastical story in hindsight. Perhaps recognizing the life-altering power of stories, modern writers are offering more and more books about a primary story affecting a secondary story during the course of a novel. Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and Rebecca Wells's Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood are two popular works that contain double narratives and parallel plotting. In Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, James Patterson invents a story within a story to create an engaging, suspenseful romance.
One reason that so many readers have experienced a strong emotional response to Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas is because of the many parallels Patterson creates between certain characters and their situations. These parallels show readers what the characters have in common and help to create an understanding of their plight. Patterson also uses these parallels to tie together the two stories in the novel's double narrative and to underscore thematic concerns.
The primary parallel that Patterson draws is between Suzanne and Katie. Both Suzanne and Katie are romantically involved with Matt Harrison, but readers are unsure until the end of the novel if they are involved with Matt at the same time. If Matt is as great as these women think, why does he have two such relationships in his life? Patterson creates drama and plays on readers' emotions by letting them wonder if Suzanne and Nicholas were in Matt's life while he was wooing Katie. While more of the text is devoted to Suzanne's diary than Katie's response to reading it, Katie's painful array of emotions could make her either a villain or a victim, depending on the reader's attitude. By showing the similarities between Katie's and Suzanne's lives as the plot unfolds, Patterson ensures that his readers identify with both women.
While the women are physically different (Suzanne is petite and blonde, while Katie is tall and brunette), many aspects of their lives are similar. They were both raised in loving families and attended good universities. They both have prestigious careers in major cities and come home at night to the comfort of a loving pet. Most importantly, Suzanne and Katie share a romantic involvement with Matt, a housepainter, handyman, and poet. While Katie is trying to understand why Matt broke up with her, she still remembers many of his good qualities, noting, "He made her feel at peace with herself, completed her circle, did something that was good and right." In Suzanne's diary, she comments on the same feelings about Matt. Of the night they got engaged, Suzanne comments, "We fit together so well. I kept thinking, Isn't this moment incredibly special? Aren't I the lucky one?"
While both women clearly love and admire Matt, Patterson also parallels each woman's relationship with him in another, more tangible way. Both relationships are very serious. Suzanne married him, and Katie thinks he is going to propose soon before he suddenly ends their relationship. Both women become pregnant by Matt. The shared experience of pregnancy and motherhood ties both Katie and Suzanne to Matt and to each other. Their children, though they will never meet, are related through him.
While Patterson creates the most obvious parallels between Suzanne's and Katie's characterizations and situations, he also gives some of the secondary characters similar treatment. These parallels add to the commonalities of Suzanne's and Katie's lives and enhance reader empathy for both characters. In addition, some of parallels that concern secondary characters add to the limited information the women give about Matt and his life.
One subtle parallel is drawn between Matt and his mother, Jean. Both of them suffer the loss of a spouse but eventually bounce back. The reader learns that Matt's father, a doctor like Suzanne, died unexpectedly when Matt was eight years old, leaving Jean a widow and single mother. When Matt takes Suzanne to visit his mother for the first time, Jean confides to Suzanne that Matt never really got over the death of his father. Noting his sensitivity, Jean tells Suzanne, "I think he believes it might make other people uncomfortable to hear about how much he hurts." Jean believes that this is why it has taken Matt so long to become open to marriage, a fact that Matt himself mentions in his entries in the diary. In addition to the loss that Matt shares with his mother, Matt becomes a widower himself when Suzanne dies. He also loses his son in the process, a loss beyond what his mother had to endure.
These parallels adds depth to a somewhat mysterious character. Katie and Suzanne praise Matt, but until he pens the last diary entries near the end of the novel, readers only learn about him through the perspective of other characters. Patterson adds uncertainty to the plot through Matt, forcing readers to wonder if he is honorable. Katie has every reason to think he might have been having an affair with her while still husband to Suzanne and father to Nicholas. The parallels between Matt's life and Jean's provide snippets of information about Matt that help to dispel any suspicions that he duped Katie and Suzanne.
Both Suzanne and Katie also have female friends who come through for them in times of need. Suzanne has Melanie Bone, and Katie has Lynn Brown. Both women are married and have kids; Suzanne and Katie have good relationships with their kids as well. Melanie is Suzanne's next-door neighbor on Martha's Vineyard, while Lynn lives on a farm in Connecticut. Melanie is the one who brings Matt and Suzanne together by recommending Matt as a painter/handyman to fix up Suzanne's new house. Melanie is happy when they become a couple, and she helps out when needed along the way. While Melanie is more of a confidante than Lynn—perhaps because of her geographic proximity—both are supportive of their respective friends. Lynn knows generally about the situation with Matt and allows Katie to come to her home, babysit her children, and have the time she needs away from the city and her problems. Lynn does not press Katie to reveal what is causing her immediate distress, but Katie does tell Lynn she is pregnant by the end of her short stay. The visit with Lynn gives Katie hope when she needs it the most.
Near the end of the novel, Patterson moves all these parallels toward a logical conclusion and creates intersections. Katie applies the deceased Suzanne's life lessons to her own life, and in some ways, takes over the tasks that Suzanne left behind. Patterson foreshadows the novel's resolution by having Melanie and Katie interact when Katie comes to the Vineyard to look for Matt. Melanie ties together Suzanne's and Katie's stories in an important way. Melanie knows who Katie is, approves of the relationship, and gives Katie hope that it will work out. Before Katie leaves Martha's Vineyard, Melanie tells her, "Don't give up on him…. Matt's had the worst experience of anyone I know. But I think he'll recover…. And Katie, I know he loves you."
Katie empathizes with Suzanne because she sees herself in Suzanne. Both women place importance on family and friends. Both come to see that there is more to life than work. A significant loss propels both of them to learn more about themselves and to make major life changes. In addition to the heart attack Suzanne suffers, her longtime boyfriend breaks up with her after a four-year relationship. In retrospect, Suzanne knows that the end of this relationship was for the best. From Suzanne, Katie learns the lesson of the five balls and uses this lesson to take charge of her own life. The novel ends when the crossover is completed, as Patterson attaches a common phrase of Suzanne's to Katie's thoughts: "Isn't it lucky."
An important and enduring motivation to read fiction is the desire to be uplifted and inspired. Readers throughout time have resolved to become more noble, more ambitious, more independent, and more tolerant after feeling a surge of transcendent idealism at the end of a great book. As Evelyn, the protagonist of the frame story in Fried Green Tomatoes, becomes braver, readers of that novel get a double dose of courage and inspiration. As Sidda, the secondary protagonist in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, finds understanding, the novel's message of forgiveness is magnified. As Katie sees parallels between her life and Suzanne's, she develops a true appreciation for life's blessings. As readers finish Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, they may find themselves more aware of and grateful for the gifts in their own lives.
Source: A. Petrusso, Critical Essay on Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, in Literary Newsmakers for Students, Thomson Gale, 2007.
In the following article, Weeks examines Patterson's success as a writer in the context of his long, successful career in the advertising industry.
Old porcelain bathtub? Check. New York apartment? Check. Persian cat? Check. Black Labrador retriever? Check. (Cat and dog are named Guinevere and Merlin, for bonus points.) Leather-bound diary? Check. Sobbing? Check.
James Patterson has written a novel, Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, that trots out just about every trite-and-true trope known to romantic fiction.
And you're just on the first page.
Read on. Window seat? Check. Heartbreak? By the bucketful. Heart attack? Yes. Death? You betcha. It's the story of a woman who falls in love with a man who is in mourning for another woman.
Suzanne's Diary has everything. Including a spot this week at the tiptop of many bestseller lists—Entertainment Weekly, the New York Times, the Associated Press, Barnes & Noble and others. It debuted on the Washington Post hardcover fiction list at No. 5 on Sunday.
Patterson, 54, has hit a home run. Now he's taking his fist-pumping trot around the bases, visiting city after city to hawk his new humongo-seller and to bask in the rich, very rich applause.
He is wearing black pants, Top-Siders, a T-shirt and a pink sweater on a recent stop in Washington. It's an awfully hot day for a sweater. "Do I look pretty in pink?" he asks no one. He lifts his wire-rim glasses, rubs his blue eyes and presses on.
First stop: a Fox television studio, where a pleasant chap asks Patterson how writing this book was different from penning his creepy, cut-them-up Alex Cross mysteries, such as Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider, or his new Women's Murder Club series.
Patterson, who is publishing three books this year, says he usually finishes his mystery novels in five or six drafts. Suzanne's Diary took 10 or 11 drafts. The author is pleased with the outcome. "I've had a dozen people say to me, 'This is the best book I've ever read in my life,'" Patterson says, quickly adding, "I think that's a little over the top."
Others are not so generous. "The operative word with Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas is slick," according to USA Today.
Publishers Weekly called it a "women's weepy" that is "good enough to lightly pluck the heartstrings and to impress with its craft—and its calculation."
Patterson knows from calculation.
"I'm doing these roller coasters," he says of his books. "People go out. They have a good time. The end."
Why is it, given that Patterson can write as graphically about the torture and abuse of women as anyone, that some 70 percent of his readers are women?
"As women have gotten into the workforce," he explains, "I think they are hooked on the adrenaline rush. There is an adrenaline rush to my books."
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
Sam's Letters to Jennifer (2004) is James Patterson's second romance novel. In this novel newspaper columnist Jennifer must deal with her husband's death and her grandmother's coma. Jennifer finds comfort in letters her grandmother has left for her as well as a new romance with an old friend.
Honeymoon (2001) is a thriller written by James Patterson and Howard Roughan. In this mystery, F.B.I. agent John O'Hara investigates and becomes involved with the Black Widow serial killer, Nora Sinclair.
The Bridges of Madison County (1992), by Robert James Waller, is about a brief romance between farm wife Francesca Johnson and photographer Robert Kincaid.
Love Never Dies: A Mother's Journey from Loss to Love (2002) is a nonfiction book written by Sandy Goodman. It is a memoir about Goodman's experiences as she grieved over the unexpected death of her eighteen-year-old son.
Time and again, he speaks of his love for the opposite sex. "I like women. The way they talk," he says. "I understand their vulnerabilities."
Asked if he deliberately set out to manipulate emotions in Suzanne's Diary, he says, "I think what you say may be true."
He adds, "I just want to give them a good time."
Lunchtime in Sterling and more than 100 women—and a few men—have shown up for a good time: James Patterson is signing books at Borders.
He loosens the loving crowd up with a story.
One night he was having dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant in Washington with Sen. Fred Thompson, Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. Someone walks up to the illustrious group of actors and asks for the autograph of … James Patterson. Patterson tells his fans, "Eastwood said, 'I need a hit movie. Bad.'"
Another story: Once he was invited to a bookstore to sign several hundred books. They turned out to be written by another bestselling author, Richard North Patterson.
The crowd chuckles.
Realism, however, is not James Patterson's long suit.
He's given to saying things like "I don't care that much about detail" and "I don't know anything about guns."
And he'll be the first to admit that he doesn't really know Washington, though his popular Alex Cross series—which has sold millions of copies—is set here.
"It drives me crazy," he says, when people insist on realism in fiction. It's more important that a story "rings true emotionally."
The novels really ring for Gloria Guio, 32, of Ashburn. She has read "close to all" of Patterson's novels. At the bookstore to get her Suzanne's Diary signed, she says she wept when she read it. "He's a page-turner," she says. "He's an awesome writer."
For Erica Lewis, who works in Sterling, Patterson's gruesome 1997 book Kiss the Girls, in which women are kept as sex slaves in an dungeon, is the favorite. "I couldn't put it down," says the 24-year-old. "I love his novels."
When Lewis's fiance, Jeff Phillipy, 27, is asked why so many of Patterson's readers are women, he responds, "A lot of guys don't read."
Patterson is a reading guy. "I do a couple hundred books a year," he says.
He started reading seriously when he was a teenager.
Born in Newburg, N.Y.—"a disaster of a town now"—he was the lone boy of four children. "My father wanted to be a diplomat or a novelist," Patterson says. "But he was a cautious guy."
His father eventually wrote a novel, but couldn't sell it to a publisher. "It was a well-written mystery," Patterson says. "I told him he better schlock it up a little bit."
When Patterson was a senior in high school, his family moved to the Boston-Cambridge area. There young Jim discovered bookstores. He wasn't drawn to potboilers. Instead he read Jean Genet, John Rechy and James Baldwin, "people who have a lot of interesting thoughts."
And during the summer he worked at a mental hospital.
He graduated from Manhattan College and won a four-year fellowship to Vanderbilt. There he wrote fiction.
After Vanderbilt, he went to work in 1971 for the ad agency J. Walter Thompson as a junior copywriter. In the office he met a woman named Jane. They fell in love. She developed brain cancer and died before they could marry. He says the memory of that tragic loss helped him write Suzanne's Diary.
When Jane died sometime in the 1980s, Patterson threw himself into his work. "I didn't want to have a minute to myself," he says.
Patterson, as it turns out, was a natural at the super-successful ad agency, churning out button-pushing commercials for Kodak, Burger King and Toys R Us.
One of his favorite campaigns was for Bell Atlantic. He based a TV ad on a real-life reunion between his father and an unknown brother born out of wedlock. "We did spots that were pretty emotional," Patterson says. "We did little movies that were a lot more impressive than what I've seen in Hollywood." (Two of his books, Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider, have been made into movies starring Morgan Freeman as Alex Cross.)
At the ad agency, Patterson rose to become chairman in 1990. But, he says, with the help of a therapist he began to understand that he had been his happiest when in the company of a woman. "Here I was putting no effort into finding someone else," he recalls.
He gave up his position at the ad agency in 1996 and married the next year. He and his wife, Sue, have a 3-year-old son named Jack. "It's a very nice, sweet relationship," Patterson says of his marriage. The family lives seven months a year in Palm Beach, Fla., and five months a year in a New York home overlooking the Hudson.
Even as he climbed rung after corporate rung, Patterson wrote fiction. He published his first novel, The Thomas Berryman Number, when he was 27. It won the 1976 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Since then he has published 19 novels. In 1992 he co-wrote The Day America Told the Truth, a nonfiction book based on lifestyle surveys. He has finished two more novels that come out in the next year or so.
Asked about the critical reviews of his books, he says that the harsh words would concern him "if I was writing War and Peace." His work, he says, falls somewhere between Tolstoy's masterpiece and "the brochure you get for the groceries."
All he asks: "I want people to say, 'I couldn't put it down.' The end."
Sometimes he's self-effacing, other times supremely self-confident. "Underneath," he says, "I'm actually incredibly competitive."
While he champions some lesser-known writers such as Kent Anderson and Dennis Lehane, he speaks of many popular novelists with candor.
"I used to like John Irving," he says.
Then James Patterson gets down to business. He tells the group that his new book is "James Patterson meets Bridges of Madison County meets Horse Whisperer." There are some oohs and aahs.
He says another Alex Cross book will be out in November. He asks his fans to call out the title: "Violets Are Blue!" they shout.
A woman raises her hands. Is there a poetry book in your future?
"Absolutely not," he says.
It's a tantalizing question, though. "Suzanne's Dairy" has two poems in it.
The first is written by the main male character, Matthew Harrison, to his wife, Suzanne.
You are the explosion of carnations in a dark room.
Or the unexpected scent of pine miles from Maine.
The poem continues for 34 more similar lines. At the end of it, Suzanne writes to her son, Nicholas, in her diary, that the poem proves once and for all that Matt—her husband, Nicholas's dad—"is a stunningly good writer."
Harrison is so good, in fact, that he submits another of his poems, "Nicholas and Suzanne," to the Atlantic Monthly in the novel and the magazine accepts it. On his birthday!
The first and last stanzas:
Who makes the treetops wave their hands?
And draws home ships from foreign lands,
And spins plain straw back into gold
And has a love too large to hold …
Who has the gift of making much?
From everything they hold or touch,
Who turns pure joy back into life?
For this I thank my son, my wife.
Time for a reality check. Peter Davison, the real-live poetry editor of the real-life Atlantic Monthly, says, "That poem would never be published in the Atlantic Monthly in the 21st century."
Source: Linton Weeks, "The Best Seller; Novelist James Patterson Knows How to Make a Book Ka-Ching," in The Washington Post, August 8, 2001, p. C01.
Braunschweiger, Jennifer, Review of Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, in Book, July 2001, p. 78.
Bulita, Brian, Review of Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, in Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, August 29, 2001, p. K2810.
Grossman, Lev, "The Man Who Can't Miss: James Patterson Writes Four Best Sellers a Year. How Does He Do It? With a Lot of Help from His Friends," in Time, Vol. 167, No. 12, March 20, 2006, p. 108.
Hanes, Margaret, Review of Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, in Library Journal, Vol. 126, No. 12, July 2001, p. 126.
Henry, Andrea, "Books: Cross Your Heart; James Patterson, Author of the Alex Cross Crime Thrillers, Turns His Hand to Romance," in the Mirror (London), August 10, 2001, p. 23.
Huntley, Kristine, Review of Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, in Booklist, Vol. 97, No. 18, May 15, 2001, p. 1708.
Lubrano, Alfred, "Best Way To Recover from Attacks Is To Move On, Psychologists Say," in the Philadelphia Enquirer, July 7, 2005.
Patterson, James, Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, Little, Brown and Company, 2001.
Review of Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 248, No. 23, June 4, 2001, p. 53.
Saricks, Joyce, "Rules of the Romance Genre," in Booklist, Vol. 96, No. 2, September 15, 1999, p. 244.
Schleier, Curt, "Fluff-filled Diary a Fun Summer Read," in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 8, 2001, p. 8.
Talvi, Silja J.A., "Keeping It Simple; They're Young. They Earn Their Living in High-Tech. And They're the Newest Adopters of an Old Movement: Voluntary Simplicity," in the Christian Science Monitor, January 31, 2000, p. 11.
"Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet," in the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, www.women-heart.org/information/women_and_heart_disease_fact_sheet.asp (August 13, 2006).
Wroe, Nicholas, "A Life in Writing: How to Get Ahead in Advertising," in the Guardian (London), May 4, 2002, p. 11.
Breen Pierce, Linda, Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World, Gallagher Press, 2000.
This nonfiction work explores the real-life stories of people who have chosen to live a simpler life and the effect their decisions have had on them.
Carlomagno, Mary Give It Up!: My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less, William Morrow, 2006.
This memoir chronicles Carlomagno's experiences during a year in which she simplified her life by spending less each month and giving up things she loved. She learned to value what was important in life.
Ellison, Nancy, Vineyard Days, Vineyard Nights: The Romance of Martha's Vineyard, Stewart, Tabori, and Change, 2004.
This collection of photographs shows aspects of life in this Massachusetts community.
Kotker, Joan G., James Patterson: A Critical Companion, Greenwood Press, 2004.
This book of criticism, focusing on Patterson's mystery/thriller novels, also includes a biography of the author.