Book Review: Stay

Megan's Review of Stay by Allie Larkin
Savannah (Van) Leone has been secretly in love with Peter since the first day of college, but somewhere along the way, Peter fell in love with Van’s childhood best friend, Janie.  Stay opens during Peter and Janie’s wedding where Van is forcing herself to play cheerful maid of honor while she is reeling over the reality that her chances with Peter are truly over.

The problem is, Van hasn’t just lost a love interest.  Over the years of her unspoken crush, Peter became a close friend.  Now, her two best friends have each other as best friends.  Furthermore, the wedding—located close where Janie and Van grew up--has reopened Van’s grief over the death of her mother just a few years before. 

As Janie and Peter depart on their honeymoon, Van returns to her condo in Rochester, New York, where she gets drunk and sobs herself to sleep, knowing she is truly alone in the world.  But, in the morning, as recovers from her hangover, she recalls the re-runs of Rin Tin Tin she watched the night before…and the German Shepard puppy she ordered from a Slovakian Web site. 

The puppy Joe—who turns out to be a loving, but fearsome-looking brute of an animal who answers only to Slovakian police dog commands—is the catalyst for Van getting her life on track.  Things really turn around once Van starts to date Joe’s cute and wholesome veterinarian.  But when Janie and Peter’s less-than-ideal honeymoon ends, Van is forced back into her supporting role, which goes against everything she loves about her new, independent life. 

Stay is a magnificent book that contains many of the elements that make chick lit books such enjoyable reads, but has underlying themes that add value beyond what is found in a typical beach read.  Van is an endearing, honest, and humorous protagonist who excellently represents a single woman in the not-quite-established, post-college years.  Her clothing is always dirty, the house messy, and she always has Kool-Aid on hand for mixing with vodka.

“I didn’t even own a mop, so I got down on my hands and knees with a bottle of Windex and a roll of paper towels and scrubbed a floor that hadn’t been more than spot-cleaned in the two years since I moved in.  I pulled out dried-up ziti from under the stove, and a baker’s dozen of dehydrated peas from under the refrigerator.  The scary thing was that I hadn’t even eaten peas since I moved into the condo, so I’d actually pulled someone else’s dehydrated peas out from under my refrigerator.”

Allie Larkin does an excellent job of keeping Van on the brink of despair, primarily through loneliness and isolation.  In addition to the situations of the plot, Van is a grant writer who works from home, and therefore rarely leaves her condo.  Also, once Joe arrives from Slovakia, his scary physique turns Van’s neighbors into enemies.  With all this underlying tension, Van is quick to cry, panic, and snap at people, all things that seem out of character for her.  This makes her seem all the more real and easy to relate to. 

Here, Peter makes small talk that halts a tense exchange between Janie and Van:
“I wished he hadn’t interrupted.  I was feeling combative.  I knew I was really more angry at Peter than Janie, but I was itching for an excuse to escalate everything to the point of storming out and leaving them stranded.”

One of the best parts of Allie Larkin’s writing is her succinct descriptions of characters that instantly give her readers a tangible sense of not only the character, but Van’s relationship with that character. 

Here, Van has just entered the condo of the homeowner’s association president, who has just sent her a nasty-gram about her dog:
“There was a framed watercolor of a duck wearing a kerchief and a big floppy hat in the entrance way.  The condo smelled like meatloaf…I heard whispers in the other room, and then Mr. Wright walked over.  He was wearing a smoking jacket over a white undershirt, and his salt-and-pepper hair was slicked back into a bouffant.  I fixed my attention on the duck until I knew my smirk was under control.” 

An interesting aspect of Stay is the back-story of Janie and Van’s childhood.  Janie’s family lived on a ritzy estate in Westchester, New York and Van’s mother was their housekeeper.  Van and her mother lived in the carriage house on the property.  Despite the housekeeper-employer relationship, the two moms were close friends and Janie’s mom often acted as a parent toward Van.  But after her mother died, Van’s resentment of the situation caused her to stop speaking to Janie’s mother, which in a way, was like loosing two mothers.  The volatile repair of Van’s relationship with Janie’s mother is expertly woven into the present story.

Stay is Allie Larkin’s first novel. Check back later in the week when Allie will answer our 20 Questions. You can keep up with Allie on her Web site, Facebook page, and by following her on Twitter

Have you read Stay?  Share your thoughts with us. We’d love to hear what you think!