Stay - Allie Larkin One of the best novels I’ve read in a while, Stay is about loneliness and love, forgiveness and disillusionment, and of course, a dog. The tale encompasses drama, comedy, and farce into a seamless whole, in which the dog Joe plays an extremely important part: he is the epitome of affection and friendship, the guiding star on the heroine’s road to recovery.
In the beginning, the protagonist Van is drowning in despair. She feels utterly alone. Her mother is dead. Her best friend Janie has just married Peter, the man Van has secretly loved for years. As the newly-wed fly to their European honeymoon, Van hits the bottle. In a drunken fog, she orders a dog from the internet. He would never marry her best friend. He would always love her.
From this point on, the story starts rolling, dragging the reader along through an emotional wringer. I cried with Van, as she bemoaned her desolation. I laughed uproariously at Joe’s antics and Van’s initial clumsy attempts at dog ownership. I sympathized with Van’s self-doubts. I wished with all my heart for her to find her true mate.
And all the time, Joe, a hundred-pound German Shepherd puppy, ploughs stalwartly alongside his beloved mistress, healing her wounded soul with his goofy barking, his adolescent escapades, and his boundless devotion… unless someone else offers to rub behind his ears.
Dry humor conceals underlying tragedy in this tale of unrequited love and shattered illusions. Although the plot is not very original, the characters more than make up for it. They live and breathe: starting from Van and Joe and ending with the people who appear only in a couple of pages.
Heartwarming and poignant, this novel would’ve deserved 5 stars, if not for one big flaw, a flaw that forced me to drop a star from the rating: Van is a slob, a huge one. The author made it her paramount task to emphasize Van’s slovenly habits. Practically on every page, she has coffee splashing on her jeans, sauce staining her dress, bread crumbs littering her couch, vomit stench in her bathroom, and filth in every nook of her home.
Sometimes it got so repulsive that it took an effort for me not to swear. I got angry: at the writer or at her heroine, I wasn’t sure. I wanted to enter the book, mop up the mess, and do laundry. I wanted to grab the author’s shoulders and yell at her: why did you have to make Van such a frump? I wanted to like Van but I didn’t. Even when my heart strained with compassion for her, my brain screamed at me: keep your distance, she’s a slattern, she stinks! It seems no less than a miracle that in the end, despite reeking constantly of stale sweat and dog poo (I’m not exaggerating, at least not by much), Van found her heart’s desire. Maybe because the guy was a vet and as such inured to unpleasant odors?
Recommended to dog lovers as well as lovers of good literature.