Weekend Reading: JANE’S MELODY by Ryan Winfield
If you like Nicholas Sparks, you’ll love JANE’S MELODY. Jane is forty-year-old woman grieving the recent death of her estranged daughter. While trying to piece together the final months of her daughter’s life, Jane meets Caleb, a hot twenty-five-year-old musician who might have been her daughter’s boyfriend. Sparks fly, and a complicated relationship ensues.
We open with Jane at her daughter Melody’s grave, where she sees a cute guy placing a silver dollar at the site. We’ll come back to that later. Jane, at the urging of her best friend Grace, has been attending Al-Anon for six years to deal with her daughter’s addiction. At the time of Melody’s death from a drug overdose, Jane hasn’t spoken to her for a year. Now, “she longed for a connection to Melody’s life – some way to understand what had happened, a chance to make sense of the senseless.”
Her quest to put together the pieces of her daughter’s life leads her to Caleb, a street musician in his twenties with long dark hair and no place to live. Jane takes him in, offering him room and board and hourly pay in exchange for landscape work in her back yard. Her ulterior motive is to get him to help her understand her daughter’s last year of life. But Jane is also an admitted “co-dependent” type of person, so this is playing with fire. Caleb is well-aware of what she’s doing, and warns her that he won’t take the job if she’s just using him to get information. She promises she won’t ask him anything about Melody.
Jane finds Caleb very attractive, though she tries to fight this for two reasons. One, she’s too old for him. Secondly, he was most likely her daughter’s boyfriend. Jane can see why Melody would have gone for him: “His jaw was strong and slightly squared, touched with morning stubble. And his lips. There was a cut on the right side, but they were perfect otherwise, especially the way they stretched over his white teeth when he smiled. And then there were his eyes. Deep and green, pools of mystery that a woman could drown in if she weren’t careful.” Jane intends to be careful.
But as we know, the world if full of good intentions. When Jane finds out that Caleb and Melody never even spoke before (the only thing they exchanged was the silver dollar that Caleb would ultimately use to pay his respects at her grave), everything changes. Why didn’t he tell Jane this in the first place? “I was afraid that if I told you the truth, you wouldn’t want me to here.” Jane asks if he was attracted to her daughter. He replies, “Everything I liked about her, I love in you.”
They become lovers. Jane is nervous before they hook up for the first time: “He’s fifteen years younger than you, she reminded herself. What if he’s disappointed with your body? What if he’s used to twenty-year-old nymphos who know how to get it on? What if he likes it freaky?” When the finally sleep together, “It had been so long that it was almost like the first time all over again.”
Jane and Caleb embark on a passionate relationship. As a couple, they have to deal with their age gap, her emotionally abusive mother, her alcoholic brother, and her continued guilt over Melody’s death. But their greatest challenge comes when Jane discovers Caleb has a great career opportunity that he’s passing up to stay with her. She tells him he has to go. “You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. I’ve got half of mine behind me already. Eve if you stayed, this would come back to haunt us now.” Will he stay? Will he leave? And if he leaves, is that the end for them? I’m not going to give it it away.
I know that readers have loved, loved, loved this book — and I enjoyed it. My one issue is that it felt predictable in its emotional up and downs. I never believed Caleb was Melody’s boyfriend, so the reveal that he wasn’t felt flat. The third-act dilemma of,“if you love someone, set them free” felt anti-climactic after so much life and death drama. On the plus side, the sex scenes were hot and emotional. The story does a strong job of exploring the love life of an “older” heroine: Her insecurity about her body, her experience of sex after not having it for so long, and her perspective on life’s journey. In the end, there’s a little something for every reader in this sweet and sexy romance, so it’s worth a look.
Jane’s Melody, currently available as an ebook, will publish in paperback for the first time from Atria books on April 8, 2014.