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Literature / Two By Two

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Two by Two is a 2016 novel by Nicholas Sparks. Russell Green is in his mid-30s, has a well-paying job at an advertising firm, a glamorous wife, Vivian, and an adorable 5-year-old daughter, London. Beneath the surface of this picture of an enviable life, Russell has always been aware that his marriage was built on not-so-steady foundations. When he decides to leave his job and start his own advertising business, his marriage takes a marked turn for the worse, until he finds himself struggling to adjust to the life of a solo parent with an uncertain income. However, with the support of his loved ones, especially his sister, Marge, and his friend Emily, Russell begins to rebuild his life, forging a beautiful relationship with his daughter and summoning up reserves of inner strength that he wasn't aware he possessed.



  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: Russell marvels several times at how Vivian never seems to age physically.
  • Acceptable Feminine Goals: Russell unfavorably contrasts Vivian, who enjoys her corporate PR job, with Emily, who makes her living as a painter, and his mother, who worked as a medical receptionist purely out of financial necessity.
  • A Day in Her Apron: Russell gets a much better sense of how Vivian spent her days as a stay-at-home mom after she goes back to work.
  • After-Action Healing Drama: London gets seriously hurt while riding her bike and ends up staying at the hospital overnight.
  • Amoral Attorney: Vivian's unnamed, unseen divorce lawyer, who is known for wearing down her opponents until they cave and resorting to spurious accusations.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Russell and Vivian's marriage gradually descends into this, with occasional glimmers of hope, until they split up.
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  • Bad Boss: Jesse Peters, Russell's boss at his previous ad agency, a known lech who starts treating Russell coldly after Vivian stops letting him flirt with her.
  • Beta Couple: Marge and Liz.
  • Bickering Couple, Peaceful Couple: Russell and Vivian vs. Marge and Liz.
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: Emily makes enough money as a painter to raise her son on her own, live in a large house with a koi pond, and drive an SUV with a built-in DVD player.
  • Bury Your Gays: Marge
  • Calling the Old Man Out: London accuses Russell of forcing Vivian to go back to work and demands that her mother return immediately from her work trip.
  • Childhood Friends: London and Bodhi's friendship. Initially, Russell finds himself worrying prematurely about the possibility of Childhood Friend Romance, although given how it turns out between Bodhi's mother, Emily, and Russell himself, that possibility is almost certainly ruled out.
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  • Conspicuous Consumption: The book makes frequent mention of Walter Spannerman's private jet.
  • Cool Big Sis: Marge has been one to Russell since childhood.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Walter Spannerman, a property developer who has "a reputation for cutting corners and paying off politicians."
  • Cover Drop: The book cover shows Russell dancing with London while she is wearing her butterfly wings. In-Universe, this is a photo of the two of them captured by Emily.
  • Cuteness Overload: Russell is often struck by how adorable London is in looks and temperament.
  • Dads Can't Cook: Unless it can be made on a barbecue grill, or it involves nothing more than chopping vegetables and putting them together in a bowl, Russell doesn't know anything about cooking or grocery shopping until Vivian's increased absences force him to learn.
  • Disneyland Dad: Downplayed: Russell does not spend excessive amounts of money on London, but he does indulge her pleas for sugary cereal and fast food, often as passive-aggressive revenge against Vivian.
  • Divorce Assets Conflict: Vivian's divorce lawyer provokes one of these, mostly as leverage so Vivian can get sole custody of London. She doesn't, and the division of assets ends up going fairly smoothly in the end.
  • Doting Grandparent: Russell and Marge note that both of their parents are much more affectionate and indulgent with London than they were when their own children were her age.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending:
    • Russell's firm now has two full-time employees and clients in three states.
    • London and Russell have overcome some of their early struggles as a father-and-daughter team and now enjoy summer afternoons outdoors together, just like Russell wanted.
    • They have also moved to Atlanta, where they live in a smaller but comfortable house.
    • Russell and Vivian have divorced more amicably than expected and share custody of London.
    • Emily and Bodhi have also moved to Atlanta.
    • Emily and Russell are in a long-term relationship and are likely to get engaged soon.
    • Vivian is engaged to her boss.
    • Russell's parents have their eye on Atlanta-area real estate.
    • London now enjoys dance class after finding a teacher she likes.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Vivian is angry at Russell the first time we ever see them together; this is justified because right after her labor pains begin, he jumps in the shower so he will look decent for photos later. The real Bitch Alert comes one chapter later, where we learn that Vivian has a habit of running up the credit card bill on clothes and shoes for herself, and that Russell knows to drop an argument whenever she indicates annoyance.
  • Extracurricular Enthusiast: Vivian has London enrolled in art, dance, piano, and tennis lessons during the summer before she starts kindergarten, ignoring London's aversion to dance class.
  • Foreshadowing: Mrs. Green's constant fears about "the cancer" striking her husband, which are prompted by her having lost her whole family to cancer by the time her younger son was 28. She even dreams about her husband being diagnosed with cancer. Her worries are justified, and details from her dream come true, but it's not her husband who is afflicted, but her daughter, Marge.
    • Russell fully expects that Walter Spannerman will begin hitting on Vivian at some point after she begins working for him. Not only does Russell turn out to be right, but Vivian is more than receptive to Spannerman's attentions.
  • Forgets to Eat: At one point, Vivian is so focused on buying clothes for her new job that she skips breakfast and lunch, and only stops for a meal when her hands start shaking from hunger.
  • Formally Named Pet: London's hamsters, Mr. Sprinkles and Mrs. Sprinkles.
  • Girly Girl: London loves Barbie and the color pink.
  • Granny Classic: Russell and Marge's apron-wearing, cookie-baking, flower-planting, Red Hat Society meeting-attending mother.
  • Happily Married: Discussed in relation to Russell and Marge's parents. Are they really happy together and to what extent do they simply stay together out of habit?
  • Hidden Depths: Vivian graduated summa cum laude from Georgetown.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Averted with Marge and Liz. Despite being a religious couple, Mr and Mrs Green accept Marge's coming out. They even give up to the church when the pastor condemns Marge's sexuality as sinful.
  • Holding Hands: On London's first day of kindergarten, Russell offers to hold London's hand as they enter her classroom, but she turns him down because "I'm not a little girl anymore." Seconds later, however, she asks her grandfather to take her hand, which he is happy to do.
  • Important Haircut: In preparation for job interviews, Vivian cuts her hair to the shoulder-length style that Russell remembers from when they met.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Marge.
  • Jerkass: Vivian rarely considers Russell's point of view or discusses her decisions with him before stating them as a matter of fact. If he tries to raise any concerns, she accuses him of trying to start an argument, or simply leaves the room. If something is objectively her fault, she always finds a way to turn it around on Russell; at times she attacks him for actions that she had made previously. Despite all this, until the last few days before their marriage breaks down for good, Russell never stops going out of his way to please Vivian, who has come to expect this and barely expresses sincere gratitude, appreciation, or affection for him. HOWEVER, she is generally a very good mother to London.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Vivian reacts very negatively to Russell's decision to start his own ad agency, forcing him to sleep in the guest room that night and refusing to speak to him for three days. He discusses this with Marge, who takes Vivian's side on the ground that he just put their single source of income at serious risk despite their mortgage and new baby. In addition, as Russell soon discovers, Vivian was justified in doubting his ability to build a client base. He gradually admits that he Didn't Think This Through, particularly by failing to market himself before investing in the infrastructure of his business.
  • Lady in a Power Suit: Vivian spends an entire day buying power suits and designer shoes in preparation for her new job.
  • Love Martyr: Despite many grand romantic gestures, Russell, who admits to getting his notions of romance from fiction, had bad luck with women before meeting Emily; he usually ended up Just Friends with women he fancied and couldn't understand why he, a nice guy, finished last. As a married man, his dislike of conflict is a big reason why Vivian can run roughshod over him, but accepts his lot out of love for her despite being aware of this. Over the course of the story, he begins to come to terms with how little respect he gets from his wife. Despite all this, after Vivian picks up and leaves him, he still wants to salvage their marriage! Thankfully, this does not last.
  • Meet Cute: When Russell first introduces himself to Vivian, he's not sure that the compliment he pays her will go over as intended. She finds it charming.
  • Mills and Boon Prose: When Russell thinks back to his first time having sex with Emily.
    I slipped it over her head while my shirt fell to the ground, her skin fiery against my own. Her bra came next, and soon we were naked on the bed and moving together, lost in our own feelings and the mysteries of each other.
  • Misery Builds Character: The main premise of Russell's arc.
  • The Missus and the Ex: Discussed: Vivian and Emily briefly meet off-screen.
  • Mood-Swinger: Vivian, who can shift from cheerful to passive-aggressive to openly hostile within seconds as it suits her purpose.
  • Motherhood Is Superior: Vivian believes that she is more deserving of custody of London because she stayed at home to raise her for most of her life, even though she has just relocated to a new city on her own.
  • Nature Lover: Many of Russell's hobbies and fondest memories involve being active outdoors.
  • Nerves of Steel: Russell admires Vivian's emotional strength and self-assurance in the early years of their marriage. Over time, though, she becomes "moodier and more irritable."
  • Never a Self-Made Woman: Almost every major female character is defined by her relationship to Russell: his wife, his daughter, his sister, his mother, and his ex-girlfriend. In Vivian's case, her major successes are largely due to the favor of other men.
  • Oh, Crap!: Russell realizes where his marriage to Vivian is headed after he eavesdrops on her having a flirtatious phone conversation with her boss.
  • The One That Got Away: Marge, more than Russell, regrets Russell having split up with Emily, who she thinks was the perfect match for Russell.
  • Outdoorsy Gal: Zig-zagged. Russell wants to raise London to be one of these, and she does show signs of interest in the outdoors by memorizing the names of plant species. But since London spends her early years with Vivian as the stay-at-home mom, she ends up spending most of her leisure time shopping and playing inside with toys. Later, when it's just Russell and London, she starts getting more fresh air.
  • Parental Neglect: Discussed: Despite a few typical parental screw-ups, London is generally a well-adjusted and healthy child. However, Russell and Vivian accuse each other of different forms of neglect at various points.
  • Potty Failure: Played for Drama: London wets the bed for the first time in years after Russell and Vivian tell her that they are getting divorced.
  • Product Placement: Barbie, Neiman Marcus, Lucky Charms, Dairy Queen, and Chick-fil-A are among the brands dropped throughout the book.
  • Queer Romance: Two by Two marks the first appearance of a same-sex couple (Marge and Liz) in a Nicholas Sparks book.
  • The Quiet One: Russell's dad, who isn't much of a talker unless he has an Armor-Piercing Response to something Russell says.
  • Rage Breaking Point: After years of love and patience, Russell feels like he hates Vivian for the first time upon learning that her divorce lawyer plans to accuse him of having an "inappropriate" relationship with London.
    • Vivian finds many reasons to be angry throughout the book, but she typically expresses it with even-toned coldness. The one thing that provokes her into screaming at him is London's growing affection for Emily.
    • Vivian also has an RBP with London after the latter drops a wet towel into the wrong laundry hamper, on top of her new dress.
  • Retail Therapy: Vivian is a firm believer in this. Despite Russell telling her that they will need to cut back on their spending after he quits his full-time job, she racks up even higher shopping bills than before as implicit revenge against him for their more precarious financial situation.
  • Sadist Teacher: Ms. Hamshaw, London's dance instructor. Even though London doesn't like her, Vivian believes her methods work because of her competition team's record.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful!: Vivian is a Dude Magnet and Head-Turning Beauty who does little to discourage attention from other men, and is not above using this attention to her advantage. This creates tension in her relationship with Russell, especially after she becomes the Right-Hand Hottie to Walter Spannerman. However frustrated Russell may be over this and other problems in their marriage, Vivian seems to be aware that she can seduce him into forgiving her and returning into his Extreme Doormat ways whenever she wants.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Russell and his father.
  • Shout-Out Theme Naming: London names each of the fish in her aquarium after a different Disney Princess.
  • Silent Partner: Emily's son, Bodhi, to London. Though he is seen and discussed often, Bodhi speaks only a few short lines throughout the entire book, while London keeps up a steady stream of chatter throughout their outings together.
  • Sleeping with the Boss: Vivian.
  • Start My Own: After falling out of favor with his boss, Russell decides to open his own advertising agency.
  • Sweet Tooth: Russell and London. Averted with Vivian, who won't even eat a pudding-and-Cool Whip snack that London prepares for her.
  • Therapy Is for the Weak: Zig-zagged: Russell briefly considers seeing a therapist to deal with his overly people-pleasing ways, but rejects the idea on the ground that he would wind up going out of his way to please the therapist as well.
  • There Are No Good Executives: Russell seems to have this attitude toward his old boss, some of his old clients, and (increasingly) Vivian.
  • Title Drop: The phrase "two by two" refers to the title of a book that Russell regularly reads out to London, describing Noah's action of taking each animal in twos. The phrase also occurs In-Universe as the title of a song and when Russell describes how he and Emily and London and Bodhi respectively walk "two by two" when touring the zoo.
  • The Topic of Cancer: It wouldn't be a Nicholas Sparks novel without it. Russell and Marge's mother frequently expresses her worry that their father will be diagnosed with "the cancer" at any moment. Cancer does claim a character by the end, but that character turns out to be Marge.
  • The Unfavorite: After a bee sting, London screams for Russell's help, indicating to Vivian that she is no longer London's go-to parent — and her expression tells Russell that she isn't the least bit happy about this.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Russell frequently compares Emily's seemingly effortless good looks to Vivian's constant grooming, shopping, and dieting.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Marge refers to an unspecified pin-up model as having "big bahoonas."
  • Vanity Is Feminine: Invoked by Vivian, who absolutely never eats carbs or desserts and spends most of her money on clothes and shoes. Averted with the more positive female influences in Russell's life, as his sister's partner, Liz, and closest friend, Emily, are both described as being traditionally feminine without being vain in the slightest.
  • When You Coming Home, Dad?: Gender-flipped: London does not take well to the Workaholic Vivian's travel schedule.
  • Witch with a Capital B: Marge once uses, in Russell's words, "a term synonymous with female dogs" to describe Vivian.
  • Working-Class Hero: Russell's father, a plumber.
  • You Are Fat: Vivian is known to criticize Russell's few extra pounds and his choice of snacks, even right in front of his sister and her girlfriend.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Russell is worried that his friendship with Emily might seem to be crossing some boundaries, given that they had been a long-term couple in the past before he met Vivian. Ironically, the spouse who first cheats is Vivian, when she falls in love with her boss, Walter Spannerman.
    • Even more ironically, Russell and Emily's relationship broke down in the first place because of his own one-night stand with another girl.

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