So why the 21-year gap since Amanda and Dawson parted? Would that the explanation were simple. Dawson’s father is a drug dealer who beats him; Tuck, a widower with a Sparks-ian combination of masculinity (he’s gruff and owns a rifle) and femininity (he has a tulip garden), takes him in and gives him shelter and protection. But Dawson’s father and his redneck posse insists on coming after him, and when Dawson isn’t around, they beat Tuck to within an inch of his life. In a rage, Dawson grabs Tuck’s rifle and peels away in his truck, joined by his superfluous best friend—who just got married, has a kid on the way, and still insists on coming along. Dawson confronts his father, but cannot pull the trigger. The two get in a fight, and in the ensuing struggle over the rifle, Dawson accidentally shoots his friend in the head, killing him instantly. The court takes the situation into account, but still saddles him with an eight-year prison sentence. When Amanda comes to visit him in jail, however, Dawson decides to make her get on with her life, and not waste good years waiting for him to get out. She shows up every day for a week and every week for a year, but he refuses to see her. Twenty-one years later, they finally come to terms with the fact that both of them—Dawson for setting her free, Amanda for her steadfastness—were acting out of a deep, abiding love for each other. Later, they bone.
Now for Twist #2. After a few days of bliss in Tuck’s lakeside retreat, Amanda feels she has to go home to work on her marriage and be with her son. Dawson respects her sense of responsibility, but tells her he’ll be around should she ever wish to return. Now, remember how the wife of Dawson’s superfluous best friend was pregnant when he died? Their child grew up to be a sweet boy, but he’s fallen in with Dawson’s father’s crew, so it’s up to Dawson to rescue him and redeem himself for accidentally shooting the boy’s dad in the head. (For what it’s worth, the deceased’s wife quickly forgave him.) But saving the kid brings Dawson into conflict with his father again, and Dad shoots Dawson dead.
While all this is happening, Amanda’s son gets in a terrible, life-threatening car accident. His heart is torn in the crash, and if he doesn’t get a transplant right away, she’ll lose yet another child. Fortunately, the young man receives the transplant from an unknown donor, the surgery is successful, and he goes on to college. A year later, Amanda is presumably still broken up over Dawson’s death, but has settled into a nice job as a paralegal. She gets a call from her son, who says he requested the name of the heart donor, and it happens to be a like-aged man from her hometown. Would she happen to know his name? I won’t insult you by saying who the donor was. Nicholas Sparks has insulted you enough already.