Goats and Cheese

Jane's Melody - Ryan Winfield
”Thank you.”
“Least I could do, ma’am.”
“Oh please, for the love of God, don’t call me ma’am. Makes me feel old enough to be your grandmother, when I’m only old enough to be your mother.”

Someone went a little too literal with the “Mommy Porn”.

I feel like I’ve been such a raging bitch against contemporary romance that I might have to pre-emptively go on the defensive. I do love a good romance. I’d love to claim literary fiction as my gateway drug into my reading addiction but it was Sidney Sheldon, mom’s stash of trashy historicals and trashier sci-fi erotica for me. I’ve been reading about romance in fiction for a long time and naturally, as you grow older, your expectations get modified, your thresholds get pushed as the genre’s paradigms shift. I am no longer swayed by the against-all-odds-love-conquers-all trope without asking some questions nor am I a hormonal teenager thrilled by reading about sex and over the top professions of passion and love.

This was not a good romance.

This book was an awkward interpretation of what women stereotypically enjoy in romantic fiction. It was very thin on the plot, the characters were caricatures with very little depth, the dialogue was gag-worthy cheesy and the direction of the story attempts to play on certain sentimentalities that never rang sincere in its delivery. 

Forty-year old Jane is an insurance salesman whose daughter, Melody, dies of alcohol-related abuse. In her attempt to reacquaint herself with her late estranged daughter and the life she lived before her death, she meets Caleb, the 24-year old homeless street musician who just might be Melody’s last boyfriend.

The taboo possibilities and moral conflict exponentially ratchets up as Jane hires Caleb to be her stay-in gardener slash landscaper because, like grunge and Starbucks, it’s a Seattle thing for every male to be automatically skilled at doing yard work, I suppose. So there was a short period of non-existent sexual tension and relationship development between the two that was built around breakfast, shirtless and sweaty gardening and Jane skeezily buying Caleb a shiny new guitar named, “Jane” all culminating into lots of guilt-free, gluten-free (read: boring) sex because Jane’s so much hotter than her dead daughter who wasn’t Caleb’s girlfriend after all.

Imagine that.

The book focuses on their struggle to make their relationship work, trying to reconcile Caleb’s ambitions of making it as a musician in Austin and the stable fortress of a comfortable but unhappy life Jane has built around herself (because she lives in Bainbridge Island, yeah I got that.)

The selling point of Jane’s Melody was supposed to be the relationship between Caleb and Jane where the sole source of conflict was the discrepancy in their age. Which of course is what drew me in, in the first place. But I can’t help but feel disappointed that that was all there was to it. An issue that could have been dealt with in a chapter but was dragged ever so lengthily by Jane’s immaturity and insecurities and Caleb whose character depth begins and ends with being every single, 40-year old woman’s supposed fantasy: a musician who does manual labor in her backyard while sweaty and shirtless.

Conflict was practically non-existent and certain plot points trying to pass itself as such just ended up sounding ridiculous (Jane and Caleb hiding their relationship from Jane’s mother… why?). Melody hardly figured in the overarching storyline. There was absolutely nothing in the story that made me want to sit down and pay attention to the message it was trying to deliver as it was often embedded within saccharine dialogue and cheesy encounters between the protagonists. I ceased from being offended and just felt embarrassed for these characters.

He stepped out of his pants and stood before her wearing nothing but his boxers. She wanted to take him inside that second.
“Better?” he asked.
“No you don’t. I’m not going to let you distract me form my project, you sexy siren you.”

It was like watching a B-Reality TV show (because there are classy reality TV shows out there in their trashiness, IMO).

Once Jane and Caleb embarked on their relationship the story progressed as if through an acid-induced haze involving a goat named Bill Clinton, Jane dancing to Sweet Child O’Mine and an out-of-fucking-nowhere plot device trip to Paris and Venice because someone is conveniently dying at the time when Jane needs to go on a all expense paid trip to self discovery.

I’m actually confused if this was really just a book with a story that I didn’t like. Or is this a book with an agenda that I should take offense against? Because while its easy to dismiss it as something that just didn’t agree with my tastes, sometimes it feels like it’s laughing at me, ridiculing the genre in a cruel backhanded manner. 

He stopped short of the sliding door, bent and scooped her up in his arms and lifted her off the ground.
“Hey, what are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m carrying you inside.”
“Did we have a wedding here today that I missed?”
“No.” He laughed. “I’m just making sure you don’t trip.”

It’s probably just my paranoid overthinkng kicking in and giving this book too much of the evil genius credit it doesn’t deserve. I’m going to play stupid and blind to the cliches, I’m going to assume the awful, awkward humour just didn’t agree with me and I’m going to pretend the not-so-subtle political punditry inserted somewhere in the story was all in innocent jest.

”You mean, old Bill Clinton?” (the goat)
“Is that really his name?” another man in the table asked. “I thought the Democrats’ symbol was a donkey.”
“Maybe it ought to be a goat,” someone said, “considering all they do is eat and shit.”
“Hey now,” Jane jumped in, “no politics and no religion.”


No, I won’t make an issue out of that. Because hey, someone cried no politics and no religion after the fact, right? And that makes it perfectly fine. 

And I wouldn’t know better anyway. I’m just a reader who likes to see sex and “I love yous” in the books that I read.