Stay ~ Allie Larkin

  • Title: Stay
  • Author: Allie Larkin
  • Genre: Mainstream
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Savannah “Van” Leone has been in love with Peter Clarke ever since she literally fell head over heels in front of him on the first day of college. Now, six years later, instead of standing across from him at the altar, Van’s standing behind her best friend Janie as maid of honor, trying to mask her heartache and guilt as Janie marries the only man Van’s ever loved. Before, Van’s mother died, she told Van never to let Peter go, but as the couple exchanges vows, Van wonders if her fairy tale ending will ever come true.

After the wedding, Van drowns her sorrows in Kool-Aid-vodka cocktails and reruns of Rin Tin Tin, and does what any heartbroken woman in her situation would do: she impulsively buys a German Shepherd over the Internet. The pocket-size puppy Van is expecting turns out to be a clumsy, hundred-pound beast who only responds to commands in Slovak, and Van is at the end of her rope… until she realizes that this quirky giant may be the only living being who will always be loyal to her, no matter what.

Van affectionately names her dog Joe, and together, they work to mend the pieces of Van’s shattered heart. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Joe’s vet is a rugged sweetheart with floppy blond hair and a winning smile. But when the newlyweds return from their honeymoon, Van is forced to decide just how much she’s willing to sacrifice in order to have everything she ever wanted, proving that sometimes life needs to get more complicated before it can get better.

Warm and witty, poignant and funny, Stay is an unforgettable debut that illuminates the boundlessness of love and marks the arrival of an irresistible new voice.

Review: 
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.

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