Literature / Safe Haven

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Safe Haven is a 2010 novel by Nicholas Sparks about a young woman named Katie who escapes her abusive ex-husband, Kevin, and relocates to a small North Carolina town, where she falls for Alex, a widowed father with two children. Trouble ensues as Kevin finds her there and plans on killing the two new lovebirds.

The book was made into a movie in 2013, directed by Lasse Hallstrom and starring Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel.

The novel and the film contain the following tropes:

  • Abomination Accusation Attack: In a terrifying example, Kevin abuses his authority as a cop to declare Katie a suspect in first-degree murder, and send out a nationwide alert to police everywhere. When this is discovered, Kevin's boss immediately rips into him and suspends him from the force.
  • Adaptation Distillation: In the book, Katie spends months, planning her escape from Kevin, making sure to consider every factor—money, location, time, etc., then spends several weeks on the run before settling in Southport. This is eliminated in the movie, where she flees from him impulsively following yet another argument and immediately heads to Southport.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job/Dye or Die/Important Haircut: Katie cuts and dyes her hair in order to disguise her appearance when she flees from Kevin. However, in the book, she goes from blonde to brunette, while in the movie, it's the opposite.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Alex's daughter is named Kristen in the novel, Lexie in the film.
  • The Alcoholic: Kevin.
  • Always with You:
  • Attack of the Town Festival: Kevin stalks Katie through Southport's Fourth of July celebration.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The movie opens with Katie fleeing a house, then fleeing town on a bus, just barely evading Kevin. Her new life in Southport is intercut with scenes of Kevin searching for her and sending out "Wanted" posters identifying her as a murder suspect, and she frequently looks uneasy whenever she spots police officers. All this implies that Katie is a killer and that Kevin is simply a cop doing his job trying to find her. Until Kevin's supervisor blasts him for his actions, revealing that Katie is Kevin's abused wife and that's why she's on the run.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: Kevin pulls a gun on Katie, they struggle for it, it gets in between them, goes off. . .and Kevin is the one who has been shot.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Despite being in a desperate hurry to leave town, Katie managed to give herself a perfect haircut and dye job. She also doesn't have a mark on her, despite a flashback that shows that Kevin slapped her and nearly strangled her before she managed to get away and she's sporting flawless makeup, something highly unlikely to be the top priority of a frightened woman desperate to get out of town.
  • Caught in the Rain: But of course. It's a Nicholas Sparks movie, isn't it? Unusually, aside from the standard romantic version, we get a dramatic one also—Kevin standing in the bus station parking lot after Katie has managed to elude him.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Kevin's water bottle that he carries with him everywhere. His boss makes note of it while he's chewing him out and discovers that it's full of vodka.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Katie's elderly neighbors the Feldman's. In the book, it's mentioned that they're the only two people she's been able to form a friendship with, thanks to Kevin's controlling, possessive nature (and she's even had to keep this hidden from him). When their daughter visits Kevin to ask if Katie will be attending her mother's funeral, she mentions her resemblance to a sister who died when she was very young. With this, Kevin is able to deduce Katie's new identity and track her down.
    • In the movie, Kevin recalls that the handwriting of a recipe Katie used was identical to that on the same neighbor's mail, meaning that the woman was lying when she claimed not to know Katie. With this, he hovers around the woman's house, knowing that it's only a matter of time before something happens to tip him off to Katie's location. Sure enough, she eventually calls the woman to assure her that she's all right, and Kevin promptly finds out where she is.
  • Chekhov's Skill: A villainous version. Kevin uses his police skills and contacts to track Katie in both mediums—in the movie, it's to make up wanted posters with her picture, while in the book, it's to deduce that she couldn't have gotten very far because she didn't have much money, thus allowing him to track her down in Philadelphia. As well, since she could have only found work as a waitress, he resolves to stake out every restaurant in town until she shows up at one, and sure enough, she does. He finds her in Southport much the same way.
  • Dead All Along: One of the minor characters, Jo is actually this.
  • Dead Man Writing: At the end, Alex gives Katie a letter from his late wife, addressed "To The Woman My Husband Loves". In the box he takes the letter from, we see several others, addressed to her children and her husband himself. Aside from being a very touching Passing the Torch type of missive, with lines like "I'm so glad he's found you", this is when we get The Reveal that the woman who befriended her upon her arrival to town was actually the late wife's ghost.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: In the book. Katie steals the social security number of the late daughter of her neighbor, knowing that she'll need a new identity to make a life somewhere else. Unfortunately, the minute she uses it to apply for a driver's license, Kevin discovers where she is.
  • Domestic Abuse: A significant theme in both works.
  • Due to the Dead: Josh to his mom.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Chinatown: When Katie goes to Philadelphia, she heads here in search of cheap rents and easy jobs.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Averted in the book, where it's described that it took nearly a year of saving for Katie to have the money to run away, after which she had to stay in cheap motels, barely eat and save every penny in order to get by. Played straight in the movie, where despite fleeing Kevin on the spur of the moment (rather than the long planning it took in the book), Katie has the funds for a bus ticket and to rent and fix up a cottage.
  • The Ghost: In line with Dead All Along above and played straight, without suggestions of it being all in character's heads. It's Jo
  • Hypocrite: Kevin, in the novel, given his near constant Bible-quoting, all while he's an abusive husband.
  • Improbable Hairstyle: Katie gives herself a salon-worthy haircut and dye job while fleeing from Kevin. While one could stretch their imagination enough to assume that she could pull off the haircut, to dye one's hair from brunette to blonde takes considerable skill and time. There's no way she could have pulled off the perfect job we see at all, much less in the brief time frame given. (This problem arises from the fact that the film is pulling the aforementioned Adaptation Dye-Job to accommodate the blonde actress playing the role; in the book she goes from blonde to brunette, much easier for even a non-professional to do).
  • In Medias Res: The book beings with Katie having been in Southport for several weeks. Only as she gets to know Alex and trusts him enough to tell him her story do we get flashbacks describing her life in Boston and her escape plans.
  • Kill It with Fire: The house is set on fire with gasoline from the jerry can.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Inverted. While walking to work one morning, Katie spots an unfamiliar car on the street and stops short as she realizes it's Kevin. She instantly turns around to return to her motel, get her things, and flee again.
    • Played straight from Kevin's point of view, as later on in the book, the writer confirms that it was indeed Kevin waiting for her and it's only that he didn't look in his rearview mirror why he didn't spot her.
    • Also in the movie, when she barely evades him at the bus station.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After Alex tells Katie to leave town and never return, he has one of these. Kevin of all people has one in the novel, acknowledging that Katie left him because she was fed up with the abuse. He flip-flops between genuine remorse and wanting to atone to wanting to kill her.
  • Never My Fault: In the book. Even as Kevin acknowledges that Katie left him because she was fed up with the abuse, he repeatedly blames it on her for being stupid and selfish. He even blames his alcoholic downfall and subsequently being suspended from his job on her.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Josh isn't to thrilled about Alex dating Katie, though Lexie loves her.
  • Pillow Pregnancy: Katie uses her duffel bag to employ this as part of her disguise when she flees.
  • Police Are Useless: In the book, Katie mentions having called the police at least once, only for them to talk her out of filing a complaint. But averted later on when Kevin's boss suspends him because of his drinking.
    • In the movie, Katie's "Wanted" poster is barely looked at when posted, then almost immediately covered over. Heaven forbid it had been true—the local cops would have been completely unaware of a friggin murder suspect roaming around town.
  • Properly Paranoid: Katie frequently moves and switches jobs while in Philadelphia. The book even makes note about how this keeps her vigilante about her safety and it pays off when she spots an unfamiliar car on the street. Without any justification, she instantly—and correctly—suspects that it's Kevin lying in wait for her.
  • Race for Your Love: A villainous version when Kevin races to the bus station to catch Katie before she can leave, and a typical one when Alex races to the ferry to stop her from doing the same thing.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: When the police chief realizes that Kevin has illegally declared Katie as a murder suspect, he immediately calls Kevin out and suspends him.
  • Scenery Porn: Southport, North Carolina is gorgeous.
  • Shout-Out: There are many, possibly unintentional similarities between this film and Sleeping with the Enemy—namely the opening sequence of an abused wife fleeing her abusive husband on a bus in the middle of a rainstorm, having cut her hair to disguise her appearance and said husband eventually finding her in a picturesque small town, then stalking her through a local celebration.
    • In the book, a scene where Kevin slaps Katie as she's preparing dinner, then almost immediately consoles her with sex, which she cringes through both because she's in pain and because she basically hates him by this point is also very similar to one in the former film.
    • Katie and Alex taking a rowboat through the woods and having to cut their outing short because it begins raining is virtually identical to Noah and Allie's scene in The Notebook.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: In the novel, at least. Kevin is able to track Katie down when basically everyone he shows her picture to—the ticket agent, the bus driver, hotel managers, employers—remembers her because she was so pretty.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Mrs. Feldman dies in the book, but not the movie.
  • Spirit Advisor: Jo's ghost in question serves in this role.
  • Third-Act Misunderstanding: When Alex thinks Katie is a murderer and confronts her about it, she doesn't attempt to explain herself and instead decides to run away from town, declaring she does not blame him for hating her.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: In the book, the Feldman's daughter, who tells Kevin about Katie's friendship with her parents.
    • In the movie, Katie herself, who calls the woman to assure her that she's all right. Kevin deduces her location from the caller ID.
  • Villainous B.S.O.D.: Kevin steadily breaks down over the course of the story.
  • Wham Shot: The picture of Alex's wife.

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