In Loving Jessie, two childhood friends fall for each other. Despite this not-used-enough premise, the book suffers from sheer unbelievability. Some of the plotlines are too old-fashioned for a contemporary romance. Throw in weak characterization and blatant head-hopping and the result is a story that’s both bland and annoying.
Jessica Sinclair, Matt Latimer, and Reilly McKinnon have grown up together. She’s now a successful cook and caterer, Matt’s an award-winning photojournalist, and Reilly – with whom Jessie’s always secretly been in love – is married to the local beauty queen. When the world-weary Matt comes back to town haunted by an assignment gone awry, he and Jessie are surprised at the attraction that sizzles between them.
Then she comes up with a convenient idea: why not ask him to father the baby she’s always wanted to have, then offer him visitation rights? Initially outraged at her suggestion, Matt ends up countering her proposition with marriage. This brings marital bliss at first but leads to heartbreak in the face of Jessie’s confusing feelings for Reilly. A side story involves Reilly’s own troubled marriage.
Barring a mildly interesting opening line (“She hadn’t planned on becoming the world’s oldest living virgin”), Loving Jessie is barely readable at the start, with its overwhelming back story, as told through seemingly endless thoughts of the three main characters. To exacerbate this inauspicious beginning, in the first chapter alone there are three different perspectives in a single scene, a practice that’s repeated throughout the book. The author blithely switches points of view so often that the narrative flow is constantly interrupted.
The remainder of the book doesn’t get any better. Jessie’s proposition is absurd; the ambiguous love triangle that develops toward the end is distasteful. Strangely, the possibility of adoption or artificial insemination is never mentioned. And more perplexing than Jessie’s willingness to get married for the sake of conceiving, is the alacrity with which Matt – supposedly a tortured hero – realizes he’s in love with her and proposes. The intense physical attraction he feels somehow leads to a decision to build his life around her, all in a matter of days. Factor in Reilly and his requisite moment alone with Jessie that Matt witnesses (which you can see coming from about a mile away), and the whole scenario typifies the two words that best describe this book: tacky and contrived.
None of the characters are sympathetic enough to make you care, least of all the heroine. For all the time you spend in Jessie head, you never quite grasp her character other than as an assortment of perfect arms, legs, and chest, as seen through Matt’s eyes, which are described ad nauseam. Her tendency to babble when she’s nervous doesn’t help; it’s hard enough to get through the book without all her boring chunks of dialogue. And for all her childhood idealism about Reilly, her unrequited feelings are facilely resolved once Matt comes into the picture.
As for Matt, it’s hard to decide which is more grating: his constant mental commentary about Jessie’s physical attributes, or his repetitive whine about how he shouldn’t think such thoughts because, “This is little Jessie”. His ambivalent personality is most evident when, despite his guilt, he kisses her when she’s drunk; or when, after being outraged at first at Jessie’s suggestion that he father her child, he agrees to her idea the very next day. His sad childhood and the psychological trauma he’s encountered on the job feel superficially tacked on. They seem to constitute a convenient plot device, not unlike Matt’s older brother Gabe, whose existence seems to be predicated on his being a perpetual sounding board for Matt.
Reilly is perhaps the weakest character. The motivation behind his past behavior is not adequately explained, if at all. And because of his history, Reilly’s scene with Jessie is simply unforgivable. As a result, it’s hard not to think of his wife, Dana, as a doormat for actually blaming herself for his sins. The conclusion to Reilly and Dana’s story is one of the most perplexing and inappropriate in romance.
There’s hardly any saving grace in Loving Jessie. Because it’s hard to care about the characters and hence the story, it’s difficult to slog through 384 pages of it. I doubt you’ll find anything to love about Jessie or anyone else in this book.