Meet Allie Larkin and Her Debut Novel, Stay
The term “chick lit” means about as much to me as the term “mommy blogger” does. Neither one of them really do justice to the thousands of talented women who pour their words and ideas and insight onto the page and screen or to the enormous variety of subjects they write about.
I just, however, finished an engaging new book called Stay that pretty much falls under that category by default. Stay tells a story about a woman, yes, and it’s written by a woman and probably it will be read mostly by women as a result, but “chick lit” conjures up tired old stereotypes about drowning your sorrows in shopping and shoes.
This isn’t that kind of book.
First, though, let me tell you a little bit about the author, Allie Larkin. A year or two ago, I met Allie online through her green living website, called Allie’s Answers then and The Greenists now. On it, she’d share eco-friendly lifestyle tips, product reviews and giveaways, and environmental news. Sometimes, she’d write about her two dogs, Stella and Argo.
I don’t know about the rest of her readers, but when Allie announced Dutton was publishing her first book, a story about a woman and her dog, I was stunned. And thrilled. So when she asked me recently to be a stop on her blog book tour for Stay, of course I said yes.
Here’s a summary of Stay from the author site:
Savannah âVanâ Leone has loved Peter since the day they met. The problem is, Peter has loved Vanâs best friend, Janie, since the moment they met. And now theyâre walking down the aisle, with Van standing nearby in a Halloween orange bridesmaid dress, her smile as hollow as a jack-o-lantern. After the wedding, Van drowns her sorrows in Kool Aid-vodka cocktails and reruns of Rin-Tin-Tin, and does what any woman in her situation would do: She buys a German Shepherd over the internet.
The pocket-sized puppy Van is expecting turns out to be a clumsy, hundred-pound beast that only responds to Slovakian.
There’s more, and you can even read an excerpt of the first chapter, but here’s what you should know:
Stay is a story about looking for home.
While the marketing and most of the reviews for Stay focus on Van’s heartbreak over Peter and her best friend, I found the beating heart of this book in the memories of her mother that Van holds close and her related need to find a sense of place. Possibly the mother-daughter relationship resonates more with me than the heartbreak storyline does because I am a mom, but then that wouldn’t be giving Allie much credit for the way she’s written it. These snippets of memory – like Van and her mom making Christmas ornaments together and listening to Boston in secret, so no one can make fun of them – are poignant and full of all the little details and rituals that characterize any family, no matter how small.
As for Van herself, she’s an utterly appealing, down-to-earth protagonist, the kind of person you’d probably be friends with in real life. (Or at least, I would.) She doesn’t care much about housecleaning, she’s insecure, and she probably drinks too much. She’s also generous, unpretentious, open to love, and a loyal friend. For most of Stay, she’s trying desperately to create a meaningful life for herself, just like we all have to.
Enter the dog.
Joe is a big, exuberant German Shepherd whose sometimes destructive playfulness reads like my girls’ when they were toddlers. I don’t even read much fiction about pets, but Allie’s descriptions of Joe’s funny facial expressions were some of most entertaining sections in Stay.
One of the characters in Stay says awful, hilarious things like, “So he’s a working-class dog?”
I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll end here.
Dutton (an imprint of Penguin) provided me with the hardcover copy of Stay for review.