The Longest Ride Summary and Study Guide | SuperSummary (2024)

Overview

In 2013’s The Longest Ride, Nicholas Sparks, one of the most prolific and successful American romance novelists of the millennium, investigates how despite their differences, opposite personalities can find their way to commitment. In juxtaposing two relationships, one ending after more than 50 years and the other just beginning, this #1 New York Times bestselling novel explores how love can flourish, endure, and sustain even through the most difficult times. The novel is part Western (one couple features a champion bull rider who falls in love with an art historian), part traditional love story, part sweeping cultural biography of post-World War II America, and part investigation into the tonic power of art.

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Plot Summary

The Longest Ride parallels two love stories, following three characters: 91-year-old Ira Levinson, a lonely widower who faces a grim cancer prognosis; Luke Collins, a 20-something champion bull rider who is attempting a return to competition after a devastating spill during a competition nearly killed him; and Sophia Danko, a senior majoring in art history at Wake Forest University.

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In February 2011, Ira Levinson, driving alone at night, careens off an icy road in a remote stretch of rural North Carolina. Struggling to stay conscious, Ira finds himself being comforted by the specter of his beloved wife, Ruth, who died nine years earlier. Ruth’s spirit encourages him to think back on their long and happy marriage. As the hours slowly pass, Ira recalls meeting Ruth shortly before he joined the Army Air Corps in WWII. Despite Ira’s shyness, they fell immediately and unconditionally in love. In France, Ira contracted mumps, which left him sterile. Although she dreamed of having children, Ruth married Ira, her true love. Ira worked in his family’s haberdashery business; Ruth became a third-grade teacher. She loved her students; one student in particular, Daniel McCallum, a troubled kid from a dysfunctional home, found Ruth and Ira a comfort.

Over the years, Ira and Ruth came to share a love of art. On their honeymoon, they happened upon the campus of tiny Black Mountain College in western North Carolina. After meeting the college’s art department faculty and then strolling through its galleries, Ira and Ruth decided to collect art. In 30 years, they bought works ranging from celebrated regional artists to those by major figures such as Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning. When he found out about his cancer diagnosis, Ira was determined to sell the collection, now valued in the millions.

Interspersed with Ira’s memories is the story of the budding love between Luke Collins, a champion bull rider with aspirations to compete nationally, and Sophia Danko, an accomplished art major in her senior year at Wake Forest. The two meet at a mixer off campus four months before Ira’s accident, when Luke gallantly rescues Sophia from a very drunk and very belligerent ex-boyfriend. Although the two have little in common, the attraction between them is immediate and powerful. Despite their dissimilar backgrounds, they fall in love.

Sophia, uncertain about life after graduation, is drawn to Luke’s down-to-earth pragmatism, his rugged athleticism, and his quiet confidence. Sophia, from the suburbs of New Jersey, is amazed by Luke’s family ranch, which Luke and his mother have struggled to maintain since Luke’s father died six years earlier. Luke keeps a secret from Sophia: A year earlier, a hard fall from a notoriously wild bull left Luke with a head injury; another fall could cost him his life, but Luke wants one last run at a championship. The prize money would cover his staggering medical bills. Neither Sophia nor Luke’s mother want Luke to compete.

Luke enters a rodeo competition and wins, but decides he is finished with bull riding—Sophia and his mother matter more. He picks up Sophia to tell her. On the way, the two spot Ira’s truck off the side of the road and quickly dial 911. At the hospital, Ira asks Sophia to read to him a letter he wrote to Ruth just weeks earlier, an emotional thank you for their years of happiness. Ira dies that night.

Some months later, as Sophia struggles to find a job with graduation nearing, she invites Luke to attend a major art auction: the Ira and Ruth Levinson Collection. When no one bids on the first item, a crude portrait of Ruth obviously done by a child, Luke bids all he has with him, $400, to gift the painting to Sophia. The auction is then summarily stopped. Ira left a codicil in his will: The person who buys that painting, by Ruth’s young student Daniel McCallum, receives the entire collection. Sophia and Luke are flabbergasted. Over the next several months with the help of art appraisers, they sell the collection and use the considerable money to settle the financial obligations of Luke’s ranch. They keep only the painting of Ruth. Luke understands, however, that the real treasure was not the collection but Sophia herself, a lesson which he is sure Ira would approve.

The Longest Ride Summary and Study Guide | SuperSummary (2024)

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