By Jayson Robert Ducharme
Alessa’s Melody originally appeared in Come Forth in the Thaw, but has since received new edits and rewrites. To prepare for its reissue, I decided I wanted to read something else of Ducharme’s, seeing as he was a new writer for me. Last week, I picked up and reviewed Ceremony of Ashes, his most recent release (excluding this, of course), which I loved. The novella was exciting and gruesome throughout, a real nailbiter. Not only did it give me some idea of what to expect from Ducharme’s writing, it also put me in a position of anticipation for starting Alessa’s Melody; I read it a single day, as a result.
This novella follows a haunted French Canadian that ran away to America following the accidental death of his young, sweet sister when they were kids. You don’t get much of his youth (beyond the telling of his terrible childhood leading up to Sophie’s death), but rather focus on his old age about the time his boss is having a family gathering before Christmas. You see, Del works for his best friend, who is a rich man with an estate that houses Del and its other employees (or what few remain at this point). His friend, Marshall, is on his deathbed, which is why his son and his son’s family are coming to visit before his passing. Coming along is the granddaughter, Alessa, who shares a striking resemblance to Sophie, as well as her passion for playing piano. This is where Del comes undone. All those years of guilt catch up to him and bite hard with her arrival in the house. He somehow becomes convinced that this little girl is actually his sister returned to him for a second chance. Without going any further, you can expect an explosive ending to his sorrows.
Alessa’s Melody has all the makings for a great tale in psychological horror. To look over my complaints, I’d say they mostly add up to one thing: this story should have been a full-length novel, instead. For one, I found myself wanting more of Del and Sophie’s childhood, and what horrors followed Del after she died. We know what he dealt with in summary, but I wanted actual scenes and chapters following his tortures. I wanted a fleshed out background of him and Sophie becoming close confidants. I wanted to travel with Del into America and watch him grow, despite the horrors and haunts of his past. Only then, did I want us to jump ahead to his old age and his struggle with Marshall’s granddaughter, Alessa. From there, the story spirals into madness with ease, when it seems some more substance would have taken the finale to new levels. In other words, I wanted more depth along the way.
That being said, this novella tells a wonderful story of heartache and the crumbling of one’s soul in despair. The ending is brutal (albeit quick) and leaves a shocking impression on the reader as the final pages are turned.
For me, Alessa’s Melody solidified my newfound interest in Ducharme’s work. I will continue seeking out his stories moving forward, and without any prodding. Such measures would be unnecessary.
Review by Aiden Merchant