A Kind of True Love Not Often Found in Novels
As the story opens, Jane Wilkes is twenty-six years old and new to the small town of Boyne City, Michigan. She is a second-grade teacher who is locked out of her house. Duncan Ryfield is the handyman she calls to unlock her door. By the time their first encounter is over, he has likewise unlocked her heart. Immediately, they are a couple though there is an age difference. He is in his early forties. But oh my, he is so handsome! He looks like the Brawny man of paper towel fame.
Though the first chapter was an easy and fun read, I immediately felt it might be a bit too fluffy for my tastes. So, I checked to see it if had any major reviews…and does it ever! It has been written up in The New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, and even the Wall Street Journal. Indeed, the Washington Post named it one of twenty books to read during the summer of 2021. Given all this fanfare, I continued to read.
And so, I report that this love story is often very funny. For instance, during those early weeks of the relationship, late nights spent with Duncan leave Jane so exhausted that one day she showed movies for Science, Health, and Social Studies. She did this so she could doze at the back of the room. All those movies caused one of her seven-year-old students to request a note to his mother because “it was more screen time than he was allowed in a whole month.” Other second grade realities added to the humor throughout.
But the biggest running gag is the fact that Duncan is quite the ladies’ man. Whenever he and Jane meet a woman when they are out and about, the crucial question always arises: Has Duncan slept with her?” Here is my most favorite exchange in that regard. It took place when a waitress looked at his credit card.
Waitress: Duncan Ryfield? Why I believe you slept with my sister Lisa after you installed her closet organizer.
Duncan: Lisa Gladden?
Waitress: No, Lisa Strickland.
Duncan: I don’t recognize that name. Would that have been Lisa over in Elk Rapids?
Waitress: Guess again.
Duncan: Would it be possible to give me a time frame? Or else some details about the closet.
So, yes, this is a funny book. And the Jane/Duncan love story is an intriguing and charming one. But there is something much more meaningful at work here, something that makes it worthy of reviews in all those major newspapers. This is one of those books where an odd group of people come together to form a family. With the addition of a disabled man named Jimmy, and the passage of seventeen years, Jane and Duncan’s relationship deepens in unexpected, and for Duncan, shocking ways. It’s all very gratifying for the reader – and for Jimmy, Jane, and Duncan – as it shows a kind of true love that isn’t often found in novels.
Who should read this book and why:
- Anyone who likes romantic comedy will like this book.
- Need a good book for the beach? This is it.
- But there is one group of people who will get more from this book than sheer enjoyment – writers. This novel could be a text book for the concept that writers should show and not tell. The author could have told us once or twice that Duncan is a ladies’ man. Instead she shows us multiple scenes like the one I quoted above, turning the reader into the one who says, “Wow! He’s quite the ladies’ man!”
- Additionally, writers are told to write about what they know. I can just hear a wanna-be-writer lament that she is a second-grade teacher and how do you turn that into a novel for adults? This book is the textbook for that lesson as well.