Stay, by Allie Larkin.
The wedding was perfect, except for two things. The satin bridesmaids' gowns that were ordered in deep, rich cinnamon showed up two days before the wedding and were bright Halloween pumpkin. And instead of standing across from the groom, beaming, I was standing across from his first cousin, Norman, smiling a hollow smile like a jack-o'-lantern. - from Stay, page 3 -
Savannah "Van" Leone finds herself a maid of honor in her best friend Janie's wedding, but instead of celebrating, Van is mourning because Janie's new husband is the man who Van has been secretly in love with for years. After the wedding, Van retreats to her condo and gets steadily drunk on vodka and cool-aid drinks while watching re-runs of Rin Tin Tin. In her alcohol haze, she has a sudden insight into what she needs in her life.
That's what I was missing. That's what I needed. Rin Tin Tin wouldn't leave me for thin thighs and an aristocratic nose. Rin Tin Tin would be a loyal friend. - from Stay, page 55 -
Impulsively, she sends her credit card number out into cyberspace and purchases a German Shepherd puppy from a breeder in Slovakia. When her Slovakian canine arrives, looking more like a full grown dog than a puppy, Van names him Joe. Van takes Joe to his first veterinarian appointment, and discovers that not only does her new dog have a really nice temperament, but so does the veterinarian named Alex. What follows is a hilarious and heart-warming story about the power of animals to heal emotional wounds and help us move forward after loss.
A novel with a German Shepherd at center stage was a good choice for me. I have had the breed in my life for more than twenty-five years, and have experienced first hand their loyalty, love and quirky personalities. Allie Larkin also lives with two German Shepherds (her big boy Argo graces the cover of Stay), and she captures the joys and challenges of bringing a large breed dog into one's home. But more importantly, she demonstrates how animals, especially dogs, can heal our deepest wounds.
I loved the character of Van -- a young woman who has recently lost her mother to cancer and is trying to find her place in the world. Van is smart, funny, and seems to find herself embroiled in outrageous situations on a daily basis. Her immediate love for Joe resonated with my own feelings toward the dogs I have had in my life.
In Stay, Larkin explores women's friendships (with all the drama, ambivalence, and support they bring), along with love, loss and identity. Her characters are real and genuine, and Larkin writes with an honesty which is refreshing. Although the plot is similar to other books in the women's fiction genre (girl loses boy, girl finds boy, girl loses boy again, etc ... you get the idea), it succeeds because of the strength of the novel's characters. Larkin is as authentic as her characters, and clearly knows how to spin a plot to pull the reader in. I loved watching Van work through her emotions with Joe at her side.
Stay is an enjoyable and well written debut novel which will appeal to those readers who love women's fiction, and who have experienced the unconditional love of a dog. I know I will be watching for Larkin's work in the future.
Four and a half stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".