David Baldacci channels the books of Nicholas Sparks in his latest novel, "One Summer."
Jack Armstrong, who hasn't even reached his mid-30s, is dying of an unnamed disease. His wife, Lizzie, struggles to raise their three children and take care of Jack. On Christmas Eve, Lizzie realizes she has forgotten to pick up his medication, so she heads off to the pharmacy. She is killed in an accident on the icy roads.
After Lizzie's death, Jack agrees to hospice care as his sister-in-law takes the children. Lying in bed and staring at the walls, he waits to die. Then he finds himself getting stronger and stronger. The doctors cannot explain it, but the disease has gone into remission. Dubbed the "Miracle Man" by the press for being the first survivor of the illness, Jack struggles to regain his health - and his children. He decides to take them during the summer to a beach house where Lizzie grew up and try to become their father again.
Baldacci uses every possible trick to produce an emotional response from the reader, and enough tears flow among the characters to create a small pond. The overall experience is a bit like reading a Sparks novel, but upped a notch to yield the proper reaction. The ending feels rushed, leaving questions about how certain events and relationships play out.
"Wish You Well" is arguably one of Baldacci's best books, and he tries to recreate that experience with "One Summer." Abandoning his usual thriller style is a bit of a gamble, and it will be interesting to watch whether readers will embrace or discard his latest book.