August 18, 2005
Little Love Story, by Roland Melullo, Shaye Areheart Books, 2005, 288
Let’s get one thing
straight: I am not a fan of romance novels. Nor, in most cases, am I a
fan of the pseudo-literary love story. Nicholas Sparks and the rest of
his ilk do nothing for me. It’s your basic chick-lit wolf, dressed in
sensitive male sheep’s clothing.
So why, after reading
the first few chapters of A Little Love Story, did I find myself drawn
to these two people? Why, as I lay in bed that evening after devouring
half the book, did I find myself actually worrying about the two lovers
at the center of this book, hoping they would be OK?
The answer to that
question is easy: this isn’t your average chick-lit love story.
The story is set in
Boston. Jake, a medical school dropout-turned-carpenter who moonlights
as a portrait painter, meets Janet, an attractive political assistant
for the governor, when she accidentally backs her car into his antique
truck in a donut shop parking lot. When he meets Janet, he notices two
things about her. One is that she seems to be getting over a nasty cold.
The other is that she is very attractive. Since this is the first time
in a year that Jake has found a woman attractive, he throws caution to
the wind and asks her out.
Jake soon learns that
Janet isn’t just getting over a bad chest cold. She has cystic fibrosis,
which, as she puts it, doesn’t exactly make her “a long-term
investment.” She’s 27 years old, which places her at the tail end of the
average life span of a person with CF. Jake, however, is undeterred and
continues to pursue her.
Okay, so you’re
probably already thinking of another famous Love Story, the Ryan
O’Neal-Ali McGraw vehicle. And this story is similar, insomuch as the
leading lady is terminally ill, but that’s about as far as the
comparison goes. These aren’t two fresh-faced college kids, full of
idealism about love and fate and all the rest. These are two adults,
with heartaches and fears and defense mechanisms and baggage all their
own. As it turns out, a degenerative terminal illness is only one of the
problems this couple faces.
Janet confesses that
she has been carrying on an affair with the recently-divorced governor.
She’s not proud of it, and offers to stop seeing him if things start
getting serious with Jake. Meanwhile, Jake is still nursing the pain of
losing his fiancée in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. His fiancée was
in the plane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field — and, as Jake found
out later, her secret lover was on board with her. Jake has a hard time
letting go of the jealousy he feels about Janet’s relationship with the
governor, even after she breaks it off.
Then there’s Jake’s
fear of losing yet another woman he loves — this time to a disease. His
medical background is enough for him to understand that the situation
for his new love is grim. The last half of the book is devoted to Jake
and Janet trying to spend as much time together as they can, getting to
know each other before it’s over — and a mad dash by Jake, unbeknownst
to Janet, to try to save her life.
What makes this story
work is the author’s straightforward storytelling. It helps, I think,
that it’s told from a man’s point of view. It also helps that the man at
the center of this story is a real man — not a stereotypical macho man
or a wishy-washy romance novel hero. He’s a man with flaws, humor,
intelligence, insecurities and hope. There’s no sappy internal dialogue,
no melodrama. And with a story this sad, there doesn’t need to be.
Roland Merullo will be
at Porter Sqaure Books in Cambridge, Mass., at 7 p.m. Aug. 22; Borders
Books in Braintree, Mass., at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 24; and Andover Bookstore
in Andover, Mass., at 7 p.m. Sept. 15. For other events on his tour, see