When you think of addicts – alcoholics, drug addicts, hoarders, gamblers – you tend to focus on them, the abusers. You don’t give too much thought to their friends and families, whose suffering is just as acute. Groups such as Al-Anon realize this, of course, and try to help the second-hand victims.
Jane is a member of Al-Anon, driven there by her daughter Melody, who abused drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse runs in Jane’s family, so perhaps it was inevitable that Melody would succumb. Jane sure hoped otherwise. And now, she sits in the car, staring at the grave of her daughter, whom she had not seen in a year.
That Jane cut off Melody from any sort of financial – or emotional – assistance gives us great insight into her. She’s tough when she needs to be, even if she lived with constant fear for her daughter. She kept Melody’s room as it was when her daughter left, and she continues to attend Al-Anon meetings. She is recovering, both from being the mother of an addict and from the decisions she made regarding her daughter.
As Jane stares at Melody’s grave, she sees a young man stop and visit. Jane wants to know about him. Was he friends with Melody? Her lover? When Jane later sees him playing his guitar on the streets, she asks those questions. He gives no answers. They meet again, and this time the young man accepts Jane’s help.
Jane and Caleb begin a tenuous friendship that offers the promise of more. Jane, though, is afraid. She’s forty, he’s twenty-four. She’s an insurance salesman, he’s a street musician planning to move from Seattle to Austin. Getting emotionally entangled with him will only lead to heartbreak, and Jane can’t open herself up to more of that.
Fortunately, Caleb is very open. He slowly reveals himself to her, and he expects her to do the same to him. When he begs her not to hurt him and not to leave him, it is as poignant a scene as you will read. Caleb and Jane have been hurt so deeply, yet they know that to live lives worth living, they need to be open to the possibility of getting hurt again.
There is some delicious hot headboard rockin’, all the more delicious for the age differential tilting in favor of Jane. She takes full advantage of Caleb’s youthful endurance, let’s just say.
This is a case of fantastic storytelling and fantastic characters, which makes overlooking the flaws an easy task to accomplish. Caleb goes from being closed off to being emotionally available quite quickly, and Jane’s somewhat constant whinging about the age thing gets annoying. But these two are so enjoyable that you will forgive them their shortcomings.
It’s a fantastic book.