Book Discussion: The Story Guy, by Mary Ann Rivers

So many of my Romanceland friends have read and raved about this debut novella that it’s become a kind of Twitter joke: are we an accidental street team? (Maybe she hypnotized us?).

In reviews and on Twitter, people (rightly) hold back for fear of spoilers, but I sense an appetite for more in depth discussion. So I thought, given the number of readers in my circle, I’d host an unplanned book club where we could have a spoilery discussion in the comments.

I haven’t actually finished the book (I got sucked in to To Have and to Hold last night), but I’m reading it now and I’ll be back later to add my comments. This way, I won’t need to write a review! (Did you see how I made my laziness a public service?)

This is discussion space, not fan space. All points of view are welcome–fans too, of course, but you don’t have to be a lover to join in. And if you haven’t read it yet but now you’re curious, well, it’s 99 cents and about a hundred pages.

Have at it! And, obviously, SPOILER ALERT for the comments.

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149 Responses to Book Discussion: The Story Guy, by Mary Ann Rivers

  1. willaful says:

    Great idea! I actually though a lot of my appreciation of the story came from a personal place and have been surprised (but delighted) to see so much enthusiasm in general.

    I should reread to make specific comments, but I remember really liking the subtlety of the writing. So often romance is just stuck right there in front of us: “She’s really hot. He can really kiss. Ow, that hurt.” Brian’s little bit of a blush under his glasses got to me more than thousands of descriptions of someone’s chiseled cheekbones and rockhard abs.

  2. Allison says:

    I read it yesterday, when I was sick in bed. I really enjoyed it, but don’t know whether I would re-read. What I loved about it was the romance-the breathless moments, the anticipation, the kisses. I liked that readers were given glancing glimpses of the heroine-we were spared her glossy auburn curls & bouncy boobs. What I was a bit meh was the actual sex. It was all a bit too ‘moist’ for me. I don’t even know if that word was used, but I skipped it, once it got down to the nitty gritty. Don’t get me wrong–I liked that the h/h were sexual/sensual beings. I loved the phone sex scene, until the end, when I felt sort of embarrassed. Just my honest reaction. Writing this out, I really don’t know what my reaction means.

  3. That blush, Took my breath away.

    And I loved that there was the same subltety in the ending of the book. They didn’t boink and all the angst was over. I’ve had friends struggling with long term care situations. It’s filled with love and sacrifice and exhaustion and guilt. She didn’t rush through any of it.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Things like that blush–rather than (or in addition to) the “instant/constant hard on when I see her”–totally made the book for me. So real, so individual, so romantic. There is a lot of blushing in this book!

  4. kaetrin says:

    I loved this one. I loved how Brian wasn’t portrayed as totally “noble” and self-sacrificing. He struggled to take care of his sister. His nobility seemed more real to me because he struggled, because it was hard – because he did it anyway and lots of people wouldn’t. Those glimpses of him when he desperately wanted to escape from his lot, those glimpses of him gently caring for his sister – they were so moving to me.

    I loved how Carrie decided that he was worth it and she could wait and inhabit the time he had free and not make him feel guilty or awful about it. That freedom I think meant that Brian was able to open up new spaces for her to share.

    The only (small) niggle I really had was that at the end, I wondered if the residential care facility was a little bit too perfect. I don’t have much experience in that area (only some limited experienced with aged care homes which I realise are different) and of course, I’m in Australia so I’m not entirely sure of how it works in the US. But the rest of the story had been so “real” with no easy answers and no magic pills to fix everything. Even though putting his sister into care wasn’t at all an “easy” answer (though, it seemed to be becoming inevitable as her health deteriorated and Brian became increasingly unable to take safe care of her at home), the facility was so lovely and caring and friendly, that it took just a tinge of the shine off the “real” for me. Just a tinge. I still loved it. But it’s easier to think of Stacy going into a care facility which is sunny and bright and where she’ll get absolutely everything she needs than it would be to think of her going into a facility which was dreary and darkish, with overworked carers and not enough staff (which is really common at least in aged care over here). On the other hand, it is a romance and I think having Stacy possibly transition into a lovely residential care facility which is arguably better than being at home with Brian on many levels, makes it more palatable for the reader to be happy about Brian and Carrie getting their own HEA – as it does not come at the expense of Stacy’s well being.

    It also has to be said that the ending is a little ambiguous (which in this case I loved) because it didn’t state definitely that Brian was actually going to place Stacy in that facility – merely that he was starting to think about it. I was actually happy about this – as it was something which was organic to what was happening with Stacy and, to a lesser extent perhaps, Brian, and wasn’t his response to having a relationship/so he could turf Stacy out so he could get laid more often. I think the story showed very clearly that that wasn’t Brian at all. By showing the start of a process and by showing how much he was struggling to do the right thing for Stacy within it, I think gave the reader enough of a HEA to satisfy, while continuing to show Brian’s character in a consistent way.

    I could talk much more about this book, but I’ve rambled on long enough so I’ll stop for now! 😀

    • willaful says:

      Wonderful points, kaetrin. That was actually the part of the book that most touched me, because I related so much to the fear Brian is feeling of his sister being amongst people who couldn’t understand her.

      • kaetrin says:

        My brother and I had to put my dad into aged care some years ago and it wasn’t a super nice place because there was no room in the super nice places and there was tremendous pressure to get him in somewhere NOW and out of hospital – they’d call us every day to ask about our progress. Neither of us had the room or the ability to properly care for him (he had dementia) and it was terribly hard to consign him to a place which wasn’t all I’d wanted for him. So, I’m sure my experience (which wasn’t the same at all) leached into my view of the book’s ending because I so wish I could have found a place like that for my dad.

    • Natalie L. says:

      I really loved everything to do with Stacy–the way Brian kept her hair long when it would have been so much easier for him for it to be short. It reminded me of Harriet McBryde Johnson’s piece for the NYT, “The Disability Gulag” (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/23/magazine/the-disability-gulag.html).

      This is something that my family has had to deal with: my aunt has a cognitive disability and, until my grandmother was no longer able to care for her, she lived at home. But so much of her life was arranged for my grandmother’s convenience and my aunt often expressed her frustration through physical violence. She has since been moved into a group home (we are lucky that we can pay for this) and is apparently much happier now–she’s more independent and has actually shown some improvement in her ability to take care of and speak for herself. I kept thinking of my aunt as I read about Stacy and Brian’s thoughts about moving her to a facility–so often, I think we see people in group homes or care centers as forgotten or uncared for by their families when it may, in fact, be the best thing for them. I really liked seeing Brian’s struggle here, it felt so real to me.

    • Kelly says:

      I felt that the care facility was “too perfect” because Brian obviously did his homework before they took the tour. With all his accumulated knowledge, his existing support network, and his need for control, I would bet he spent MONTHS investigating all the options. I think it shows how it wasn’t a spontaneous decision, but something he’d been thinking about for a long time.

      • Jessica says:

        We know that Brian was doing his best, a best that, eventually was not “the” best all things considered, for his sister. I find it remarkable that he was able to keep Stacy home for a decade in her extremely debilitated condition. And then there are all those real life situations where “home” is not good for the person because there is abuse or neglect, something Stacy faced when living with her mother. I was glad this novel showed a range of caretaking abilities, even within one family.

  5. Ros says:

    I haven’t read this and I’m not sure if I want to because…

    Well, it sounds like it’s the same plot as Ruthie Knox’s train book (Big Boy?) and I didn’t enjoy that all that much. Has anyone read both? Are they as similar as they sound?

    • willaful says:

      The basic plots are quite similar. The actual stories are very different. I loved both. What didn’t you like about BB? It might not be the same here.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        The basic plots ARE similar (I found myself thinking “Is this a new trope”?) but the heroines and voices are quite different and as with any plot, two authors never tell the “same” story in the same way.

      • Ros says:

        That’s true. I was going to say I’ll download a sample, but it’s 38p so I shall take the risk and buy it.

        I guess I didn’t really buy into the set up of hiding one’s real life for the sake of a regular hook up. I just thought they could have been honest with each other and got the same result.

      • willaful says:

        I don’t *think* you’d have that same issue with this story.

      • willaful says:

        I want to add — it’s been a while since I read Big Boy, so this may be me added something to the text that wasn’t there, but I think the idea was that what they were doing was an escape and keeping the details of their everyday reality out of it was part of that escape. Though those started to seep through as they got closer — they told each other “stories” that were essentially the truth.

      • Robin says:

        I have TSG but haven’t read it yet. The summaries I’ve read make it sound a hell of a lot like Megan Hart’s Broken, so I’m anxious to see if that comparison bears out in the actual reading experience.

      • Robin says:

        So I decided to take my lunch (half) hour and start reading this. I haven’t gotten too too far yet, but now I’m getting interested to read Knox’s Big Boy, too, because already I feel like I’m in some alternate Megan Hartian universe. Is this book in dialogue with Broken? Was there any intention of having that connection? Are Knox and Rivers’s books supposed to be in dialogue with each other and/or something else? So interesting.

        I disagree with the comment I saw somewhere (cannot remember where now) that Carrie is happy with her life, though. Right off the bat she definitely doesn’t strike me that way, and she even contrasts herself to Shelley, who is described as “happy.” Not sure how I feel about that, yet, in regard to how this relationship with Brian is going to develop.

        However, I think Rivers has done a great job at making Brian’s offer seem appealing, because outside of its outrageousness, it doesn’t at first blush have a lot to recommend it. But it wasn’t long before I was mentally urging Carrie to meet him so I could see what was on the other end of that invisible IM leash, so something there is working.

      • Ros says:

        Yup, that’s the explanation in Big Boy, willaful. It just didn’t really work for me, especially as the relationship developed.

  6. Jessica says:

    I really enjoyed this one. Stayed up late with my Paperwhite light turned low after the spouse fell sleep to finish it.

    I have to agree with people who compare the writing style to Megan Hart. The heroine’s first person voice has a similar flat affect that I actually really like. Her thoughts run by in an almost monotonous way, unlike in other books where the interior life of the heroine has all the peaks and valleys of the way she speaks. I can’t explain why I like that, maybe because it feels more modern, like a stream of consciousness, rather than the heroine having a dialogue with herself.

    As far as the way the sister’s disabilities were handled, I agree that the facility itself was “too good to be true”, but (1) that’s often how they seem to new visitors anyway, and (2) at least it wasn’t presented as the “answer to all Brian’s problems”. Brian’s sister wasn’t his problem, actually. If she had been written that way, then I would hate this book, and the facility and the decision for her to go there would have been an integral part of the HEA. His “problem” was how best to love and protect his sister, which is different. I also liked it that Stacy was not presented as a fallen agnel: she was someone who made some bad choices, like anyone would.

    But, I am sorry there was no (unless I missed it, entirely possible) representation on the page of anything Brian got out of his relationship with Stacy, and there was very little agency given to Stacy. There is a line when Carrie says that Stacy settled and smiled at her, and another when she is bathing her and Stacy laughs. I loved those, but a couple more of those would have made Stacy a more well-rounded character. To be fair, secondary characters are often portrayed in very limited ways, regardless of whether they are disabled, and this is only a novella. Also, to be even more fair, we meet Brian when he is in crisis over Stacy’s care and that wasn’t the time for him to be focusing so much on enjoying his relationship with her.

    • I really, really loved that moving Stacy to the facility was neither the answer to all Brian’s problems nor an easy, painless choice for him. It never is an easy thing to do, even when it becomes clear it’s the right path.

      • Jessica says:

        Yes, he is going to continue to have to be a constant active advocate for Stacy, and she is going to continue to need his loving presence and support. It is a change in their relationship, but not the end of it!

  7. Kelly says:

    I struggled with the first half of the story – it was a little too reminiscent of Ruthie Knox’s _Big Boy_, even in the first-person present POV. But they were different enough in voice and tone that I kept with it, and I’m glad I did.

    Both _Story Guy_ and _Big Boy_ also reminded me of the storyline in _Love, Actually_ with Laura Linney’s character caring for her mentally ill brother. I really had a hard time empathizing with that character because she was soooo martyrific – her sacrifices defined her entire life, and why the HELL were her brother’s caregivers allowing him to call her all the f’ing time? She could have put a stop to it, but she chose not to, because then she’d no longer have the drama of being needed.
    Also: WHO IN THE HELL WOULD LEAVE THAT GUY ALONE IN BED??? [He wore glasses too, if I recall…]

    I was kind of afraid that both Brian and Carrie would become martyrs in the same way, but Rivers somehow managed to avoid that – brilliantly – and I’m not even sure how she did it. I loved how Carrie reflected on how lucky she was to have the simple, worry-free love of her parents and friends, and how she longed to give that to Brian. Carrie wanted Brian to need her, and she visibly fought against injecting herself into the drama and making herself another burden on Brian.

    I also loved how it was *Brian’s* decision to move Stacy to the care facility, and I may or may not have cried (just a little *sob*). I’m another reader who’s had to deal with the possibilities of moving an aging parent to a care facility, and every single word of that entire scene rang true.

    • Ros says:

      Okay, you’ve sold me. 🙂

    • Sarah says:

      Oh, I cried lots, especially when we found out why Brian kept Stacy’s hair long. And for me, the fact that it was *his* decision to move Stacy there made the HEA believable. Until that point, I kept telling myself there was no way Rivers was going to pull this off in a way that would satisfy me.

    • kaetrin says:

      I so agree with you about Love Actually Kelly. I thought Rivers pulled it off so well here because Brian wasn’t martyrish about it (- Linney’s character was always so patient and kind and long sufferingly pleasant it made my teeth ache. I hated that storyline in that movie!)

  8. willaful says:

    I just wanted to say how happy I am that Liz set up this space and discussion is really happening!

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I’m happy discussion is happening too. I worried everyone might be sick of hearing about the book before I got around to reading it. 🙂

  9. Jessica says:

    Here’s the most romantic passage in the book, according to me:

    “You have no idea , Carrie the Lieberrian, how good you feel.” He brushes his face over the curls around my ears. “That first Wednesday, in the park, I saw you before I noticed you were holding the umbrella, and I had one thought, just one.”
    My heart stutters. “What was that?”
    “Please.”

    Rivers, Mary Ann (2013-07-08). The Story Guy (Novella) (Kindle Locations 1466-1468). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

    • kaetrin says:

      Oh, yes, that was my favourite line. I couldn’t resist quoting it in my review. I wondered if it was too spoilerish but I just couldn’t resist.

  10. Sarah says:

    I’ve always avoided reading Broken because based on what I’ve read, I’m not sure I would enjoy it. However, if I really enjoyed The Story Guy, should I reconsider my stance on Broken? FWIW, I sobbed through the last 20% of this book.

    • Robin says:

      Others might have a better perspective on your question, but I can tell you that there are definitely differences between the two books, as well as similarities, so it may depend on how you respond in general to Hart’s books. Serena Bell at Wonkomance wrote a post about Broken, which goes into some depth and might help inform your decision: http://wonkomance.com/2012/03/20/megan-harts-broken-what-erotica-can-teach-romance/

    • Jessica says:

      Sarah, I read and really enjoyed Broken, but since the time I read it, I have become more sensitive to portrayals of disability in romance. Although I didn’t read it this way at the time, some have claimed that the disabled husband in Broken was portrayed in an unsympathetic and tokenistic way, merely as an impediment to the HEA between the heroine and another man.

      Another major issue some romance readers have with Broken is that Sadie is married, yet carrying on an emotional and sexual relationship with another man. Imagine if, in The Story Guy, Stacy was Brian’s wife. (Not to mention that the hero is carrying on multiple sexual relationships after he mets the heroine, something real romance purists don’t like.)

      To me, although there were some stylistic similarities between The Story Guy and Broken, Broken is much, much darker in tone.

      • kaetrin says:

        I agree there are similarities with Broken and Big Boy, but I think The Story Guy (and the others) are different books. I may have a different view of Broken now (if I could bring myself to read it again which I don’t think I can – it gutted me) but at the time I read it, I didn’t find Adam (I think that’s his name?) portrayal problematic in terms of disability. I spent a lot of the book rooting for Adam and Sadie to work things out somehow actually so I may well be an outlier in that respect. What happened with Adam broke me and it is that I can’t bear to revisit.

        TSG is different because Stacy is Brian’s sister and there is no sniff of infidelity. And, while Brian’s life is very compartmentalised and he begins with keeping Carrie in a special place just for him, they dont lie to each other or tell each other stories like in Big Boy or Broken – they may not share everything, but they tell the truth. There are other differences too. I don’t think it’s a given that if you’d like The Story Guy you’d like Broken, IMO. You might, but you might not also.

  11. Liz Mc2 says:

    OK, now I’m going to try not to write a blog post in my own comments.

    Have never really been tempted to try Megan Hart, but now I am thanks to comments here.

    I really appreciated those of you who have more direct experience commenting on Brian’s experience of and feelings about caring for Stacy. I trusted Rivers to get that “right” thanks to her professional background, and it seemed pretty real to me, but it isn’t something I really connected with.

    I think I am with Jessica on the most romantic part. For me, what worked BEST in this book was the romanticism. I really like Rivers’ style (something I already suspected from her blog posts) and I appreciated the specificity of her descriptions of desire, not to mention all the kissing. Yes, there is mental lusting but it felt more real and way less juvenile than I often did in romance. The wet panties had an explanation, if you know what I mean, not just “he’s so hot.” I really felt this book was ROMANTIC and too often I miss that. I also get what Allison means about the sex scenes. I liked that–there were moments that were really kind of gross, but that’s also real. TMI, but after really great sex I often find myself laughing a little in an embarrassed way, because I can’t believe the noise I just made/thing I just did; I thought Rivers really captured the way sex can be transporting, but it didn’t feel too much like idealized fantasy sex to me.

    I love Rivers’ blog posts and her thinking about the genre, and that is a big part of what made me want to read her book. But I also felt that, maybe because of that, sometimes in this book I could see the gears turning, see the mind at work. I don’t mind this, but it did mean that particularly in the second half my engagement with the book was as much intellectual as emotional–I found myself more immersed reading the first half. I did not cry (but I seldom do when reading).

    • Allison says:

      I always tell my husband that I would never do a sex tape because I have no makeup/lighting/direction. Good point about ‘real’ sex being somewhat embarrassing and silly.
      I suppose that after the heavy swooniness of the romance, I could have happily read more euphemisms.
      But that may just be me. I’m finding as I read more Rom, after many years away, I appreciate a bit less Penis/Vag, and more ‘steam’ of courtship/yearning/love. The latter was really well done, IMO, in Story Guy.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I too want to read more wooing/yearning and heck, making out (sex may be hard to write, but for some it seems easier to go there than to depict the swoony feelings of being drawn to someone, of anticipation and delay) and also think Rivers writes that so well. Maybe part of the problem is that in contemporary romance it can be hard to find reasons to keep the couple from just jumping into bed. But I want a reason for them to do so other than that the other one is generically hot.

  12. Liz Mc2 says:

    I had to make it two comments.

    I thought about 3 things while reading this: Love, Actually (like Kelly), Ruthie Knox’s Big Boy (as several of you mentioned), and Sunita. Sunita because she talks about books where she can see the author’s mind at work, and to some extent that was my experience here.

    But also, because of some things Sunita said about Big Boy, including that she found the hero kind of disappointing because he turned out to be more or less your typical romance hero. This is a novella with a lot going on, and something had to be a bit glossed over. I thought it was Brian. Brian *says* he is not a good man, but at the end we are more told about his frustrations (by both him and Carrie) than shown them. I would have liked to see him get mad or frustrated about something to do with Stacy’s care. I did think that there was a lot very real in the depiction of his situation, but we didn’t see the dark side on page, particularly. So I found him a bit idealized and also, if I’m honest, a little bit of a woobie. I wanted to see him be a jerk sometimes. Because who wouldn’t make room for *this* guy in their comfortable but not quite happy life? It seemed a little too easy. (On the other hand, I wanted to finish so I could read all your comments and maybe I need to reread the second half). Like Jessica, I’d also have liked to see a bit more of his everyday interaction with Stacy.

    My feelings about Brian are also partly because this is Carrie’s story. And I really appreciated that. I liked her character a lot (though I identified more with the heroine from Big Boy, for personal history reasons). I certainly thought we got to see how Brian feels, but he always seemed a bit of the fantasy guy. I thought Rivers used the IM and phone scenes very well, though. I loved the epistolary elements (I think we can count phone sex as a contemporary version of epistolary romance, can’t we???).

    Finally (maybe?), I am thinking about categorization. This book seemed to me right on the edge of erotic romance. The conflict isn’t about or, exactly, worked out through sex/kissing, but a lot of the relationship development is. (This is another reason why both Brian and Carrie’s relationships with Stacy are more told than shown, I think). Possibly the first person, present tense POV contributes to that feeling on my part, because it is so common in erotica/erotic romance. I am not a fan of present tense narration, generally speaking, but I didn’t even notice it here until the second or third chapter, which is a sign it was done well. I like a little distance in narration, I guess, and while there isn’t retrospection here, because Carrie is mature, self-aware, and thoughtful, we get that distance in “real time.” So it worked for me.

    So I’d say I really liked but didn’t love this, I do love Rivers’ voice and the way she thinks about the genre, and I am very much looking forward to reading more from her. My favorite things about this book–great dialogue and the romance in the romance–are my favorite things about the genre.

    • Jessica says:

      I like the idea of phone sex as a contemporary form of epistolary romance. There is also the messaging in this one, too.

      It’s a novella that is very aware of its status as a a piece of fiction. I was thinking about Jay Dixon’s claim that romances are earnest, irony-free, modern. But not only is Brian “the story guy”, a metaphor that is explored quite thoroughly, and Carrie a librarian, but there are so many references to literature — Anna Karenina, Where the Red Fern Grows, Waiting for Godot.

      Also, where *is* Sunita? When she quit Twitter, she said she would still be around.
      If you see her, please let her know that I am quite irritated. 😉

      • willaful says:

        I wondered — and it would be easy enough to ask! — if the title was slightly inspired by Montgomery’s The Story Girl.

        Jessica, have you read The Borrower yet?

        • Liz Mc2 says:

          Ohh, now that you mention The Borrower, I am thinking that in some ways this is what I wanted when I read Alexis Smith’s Glaciers: to see the romance version of that story as well. (It’s another really good librarian heroine novella).

  13. Liz Mc2 says:

    Oh wait, one last thing I meant to say in my first comment. Although I generally really, really liked the depiction of physical attraction, kissing, and sex, I was thrown by the word “cum.” This is a personal thing and YMMV, but for me, that is a 13-year-old boy/Penthouse letter word. It is not adult-sexy and seemed odd for this otherwise highly literate/literary, mature character voice. I do not think it is the noun form of “come.” I think “come” is. (Also, at one point she says “ancestor” when she means “descendant” and given how crafted this book generally feels–and I liked that about it–that really threw me).

    • willaful says:

      I vaguely remember that, now that you mention it. I hate that too! Strange how that spelling makes the word turn porny. I missed the ancester thing.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I’m sure some people would argue it is a different word, but to me it is a faux spelling and those are always tacky. Like “late nite” or whatever. Cheez whiz. Maybe what bothers me is not even the porniness but that it seems juvenile in the sense of not able to use the “real” words for things (cheez whiz is not real cheese). It wasn’t a big deal to me, just unexpected.

    • Sarah Frantz says:

      FWIW, “cum” is sometimes housestyle and there’s nothing the author can do about it. 🙂

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        Good point! Though I admit I have a hard time imagining “cum” as Loveswept house style. I wonder if any other Loveswept books actually use that noun? Reference to the substance itself is more frequent in erotica than in romance/erotic romance, I think. I’m not willing to take on this research project myself, but surely someone should!

  14. Sunita says:

    Despite not having a google alert for my name, I hear and respond! No, seriously, I saw this post in my feed reader but I hadn’t read the book so I wasn’t sure I’d be commenting (I found the excerpt to be mixed at best). But then I saw that DA Jayne was recommending it and we are frequently book twins, so I read a portion of it last night and here I am, and writing way too long a comment as a result.

    So far I’m about a third of the way through (I’ve been out most of the day) and this book is not working for me. The style isn’t bothering me as much as I expected, and as Liz says, the 1st present POV is quite well done. But I have two big sticking points: the heroine and the caregiver motif. On the heroine, I am not buying that she is a well-adjusted 35-year-old. I was a single professional at 35, and she feels more than a decade younger than that. She comes across as lonely and quite unhappy, apart from her job satisfaction, and I find the emphasis on a kissing relationship insufficiently motivated. In fiction, there are generally three categories of characters who emphasize kissing over other types of intimacy: inexperienced virgins, people who’ve had too much meaningless sex and want to get back to the basics, and prostitutes. Oddly, Carrie seems to fit in the first category, because she hasn’t talked about previous relationships and she apparently doesn’t masturbate much. (I also find Brian somewhat unbelievable, but in the way heroes often are.)

    I was also perturbed by Carrie’s behavior on the second “date.” Brian has stipulated kissing only and shoulders-and-above for himself, and he’s clearly uncomfortable with sharing too much info (for heaven’s sake, they’re snogging in a public place in the middle of the day, which suggests he means to keep to it). Yet Carrie tries to push him into more. If the genders were reversed, we’d be pretty pissed at Brian, but somehow it’s OK for Carrie to violate his boundaries so quickly? Not for me.

    On the caregiver trope: this feels very much like Big Boy to me; not in an imitative sense, but the books till the same ground. I haven’t read the later parts in TSG, but readers’ discussions make the parallels seem obvious. I find the Caregiver Hero as depicted in these two books to be very problematic. This is undoubtedly MY issue, everyone’s mileage varies, but in my personal experiences of dealing with different types of caregiver challenges, the go-it-alone caregiver creates as many problems as s/he solves. Intense caregiving demands can fracture families and tear apart relationships, and they place an enormous burden on solo caregivers in particular. It is very hard for such people to pivot from that into a healthy relationship, not least because they can have psychologically complex reasons for insisting on solo or dominant control. To treat such a character as behaving heroically and to give him an HEA in a novella-length romance has not worked for me in what I’ve read to date.

    • I’m only skimming through the comments because I have to write my review, but I did want to comment on the following: I didn’t think she was well-adjusted at all. I thought she was somewhat content and borderline unhappy. I had the impression that she was jealous of how emotionally fulfilled her friend was, but maybe laziness, fear or routine (or a combination of all three) stopped her from going out and finding love or whatever she needed to be happy. I think she was professionally satisfied, but emotionally unfulfilled. I liked that about her, though (and at times she comes across as selfish, which I also liked). But I’m really surprised that I’m the only one who read her that way. Although maybe I’m projecting, because I can relate to these feelings.

      Anyway, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the book. There were many things I loved, but a couple I’m not so sure about, so I’m giving them a lot of though.

      • Sunita says:

        For me, the difference between being well-adjusted and being unhappy in her life is important because it changes my interpretation of how Carrie behaves. If she’s unhappy, then her aggressiveness toward Brian takes on a different meaning. And my problem is that she keeps telling me she’s happy but there’s so much evidence to the contrary. So when she says, I can accept this lesser relationship, it’s different coming from an unfulfilled and lonely person.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      You responded to the bat signal! I understand why some readers found this book “real” but for me it was firmly in the realm of fantasy, for some of the reasons you and Las cite. Much of it worked well for me on that level, but when I pushed on that or asked too many questions, it started to unravel. TBH, the way Rivers talks about the book in interviews, though really interesting to me, contributes to this, because she talks about giving them an hour to live fully. I DO get that neither of them is entirely living fully (I find it a bit hard to buy a single mid-30s librarian without a cat) but work and friends and caregiving ARE life and relationships. I felt the comments and book to some extent equate romance and romantic risk-taking with a real/full life (and downplay other kinds of love and meaning, as I felt this book downplayed Brian’s love for Stacy). And I don’t buy that even though I am typing this tipsily after an anniversary dinner with the man I have spent more than half my life with. (I hope it makes some kind of sense. We dined within walking distance of home and drank a lot of wine as a result).

      • Sunita says:

        Yes, exactly. It’s the idea that romantic love is somehow the most fulfilling and/or exciting (clearly not the same thing), and I think the kissing-only is meant to highlight that. But while that might work for young love, I think it’s harder to pull off for mid-30s types. Even if you’ve been shortchanged in the romance department at that age (because of other responsibilities or whatever), you are still not the same person you were a decade before, so those events are going to be freighted with different meaning.

        A real/full life includes romantic risk-taking, in the best of all possible worlds. But it’s neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition.

        Happy Anniversary!

      • Ros says:

        Some of us are just not cat people. 😉

        • Liz Mc2 says:

          OK, a plant! I mean, I know she had friends, but because it was a romance novella and the set of characters was limited, she appeared to have two friends, and one was the improbably wise young gay colleague who was really just there to give her relationship advice. He did seem like a stereotype to me, even if not the typical sassy gay friend (thank God he didn’t give her a makeover).

      • Ros says:

        But yes. Every woman I know who is single and in her mid-30’s or older has a full life. They’ve worked out how to find the kinds of friendships they need, and do the things they love, and fill their time productively and happily. And although there can still be loneliness and longing for a romantic relationship, you don’t wait for that to happen before you start living.

      • willaful says:

        So the gay friend stereotype is bad but the catless librarian is also bad? Unfair! 😉

        I didn’t feel the book downplayed Brian’s love for Stacy. I love my son and we are very close — I get far more active pleasure from his company than Brian can with Stacy — but I still feel very isolated, and often stifled by how much caring for him has to limit my life — and I don’t have to use nearly as much time and emotional energy as on him Brian does. Caring for him doesn’t fulfill all the needs of my heart — and people would think it pretty sick if it did.

    • Sunita, +1 to everything you said.

  15. Las says:

    This didn’t really work for me. Like Sunita, I had major issues with the way Carrie kept pushing Brian for more than he was willing to give, especially so early one. She acted as if she were entitled to his emotions. If this had happened after several months, after having shared bits and pieces of each others’ lives and growing closer, then the demand would have made some sense, but two make out sessions don’t give you the right to ask for anything more.

    I only read enough about this story to know that it was an anonymous FWB plot similar to Big Boy–if I had known it was also a caregiver story I wouldn’t have picked it up. While it worked for me in Big Boy, it felt heavy handed in TSG. Brian had been Stacy’s sole caregiver for too long and her physical dependence on him was total–the whole set up had a melodramatic edge that rubbed me the wrong way. Brian was too much the sympathetic good guy, and that felt manipulative. (I know emotional manipulation is sort of the point of fiction, but it was too obvious in TSG.)

  16. kaetrin says:

    @Robin – I think the comment about Carrie being happy possibly came from my review. 🙂 Although I used the word “content” (apart from occasional bouts of loneliness) and that was my sense when I read the book.

    @Las – I forgot to mention in my review but I did find Carrie too pushy initially and I thought tha was unfair, considering the “rules” they had agreed to at the beginning. I forgave her because later on in the book she was much more understanding and less pushy but if she had’ve continued that was I would have hated it.

    @various others (!) Funnily enough I didn’t think at all of Big Boy when I read The Story Guy. I have no idea why that is because I have read it and I agree there are similarities. I didn’t find Brian too perfect at all and for me, I thought there was enough to show that he struggled with giving Stacy care – he battled his own selfishness and personal wants – there was that outburst about his career for instance – but chose to stick anyway. He didn’t do it entirely alone of course, there were carers when he was at work and she had times when she was in hospital which he referred to (I can’t remember the exact words, but it was something like) as a bit of a holiday – for me, there was a revealed tension between his personal relief at having some time to himself and feeling bad because Stacy was ill enough to be hospitalised and for me, that worked.

    I can’t say I particularly noticed the inner workings either. I got too caught up in the story. It’s the sort of thing I might notice if I’m bored so I’m not the best person to comment on this aspect because I am often oblivious.

    Also “cum” is not my favourite word either. 🙂

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Crap, I pressed cancel instead of send.

      I agree with what you say about Brian but would have liked a little more show and less tell. I thought this story avoided the dark a little too much. For me a real person in B’s situation would sometimes vent his anger and frustration ON Carrie, however unfairly (at least I would) and I don’t think she ever had to deal with that, which made saving him kind of easy. Sticking with someone you sometimes want to kick and say “just fucking get over it” to (or someone you do, sadly, say that to, or who says it to you) is a different ballgame. Possibly my feeling about this story is that there was not enough internal conflict on Carrie’s part and thus I don’t entirely believe in her, much as I liked her.

    • My review at DA said Carrie was happy. Perhaps that’s the one Robin was referring to.

      • Kelly says:

        Like Dabney, I also read Carrie as being happy – she may be been bored and a bit frustrated, but that doesn’t equal despondency and desperation. I can’t help but think that viewing Carrie as unhappy might be projecting the feeling that she *should* be unhappy because she’s in her 30s and single. Or maybe that’s just my happy and fulfilled mid-40s single woman defensiveness.

        I felt that Carrie pushed Brian because she sensed he *needed* to be pushed. Without Carrie’s persistence, would Brian *ever* have cracked open enough to allow himself to be loved? If she hadn’t shown him and told him that she wanted him – for himself, not for his caregiving abilities – he would have clung to the Saintly Martyr role and continued to push her away. Once he let her in just a little, she backed off and followed his signals about how much he wanted and when.

        The first person POV was both a blessing and a curse for this story – it was the driving force of the voice and tone, but it also got us a little too much into Carrie’s head.

        • willaful says:

          I read it more as unconscious gender roles. Society portrays men as always wanting women; men who are raped by women get laughed at or praised. I think Carrie subconsciously expected that Brian would break his rules because he’s a men and thus wouldn’t turn down hot sex.

        • Liz Mc2 says:

          Kelly, I wonder if Carrie is being read in a number of different ways because her characterization/motivation are not entirely consistent? Or because she is, to some extent, an unreliable narrator? (She thinks of herself as content, or happy, but at the start of the book she’s crying about going on a cruise with her parents. Part of her certainly feels “empty” and lonely).

          While I was reading the book, I was fine with Carrie pushing Brian for exactly the reasons you say. I think that Rivers does a good job of establishing why the reader would (should?) consent to this boundary-pushing on his behalf. I am going to stop using the term “fantasy” here because I’m afraid it’s coming off as “you readers who are just in it for the fantasy feelings may be fine with this, but . . .” or reality is superior to fantasy, and that is not what I mean. I think that on a LITERARY or symbolic level, this pushing works: we know we are reading a romance novella, there are many textual clues that Brian wants and needs more in his life; Carrie is the heroine so she is right about what she’s doing, we trust it will work out. I don’t mean to say this IS “forced seduction,” but it works in some of the same ways in terms of literary strategies and variety of reader responses. If a reader is NOT seduced by these strategies, so to speak, is not willing to submit to the symbolic workings of story, she is going to be saying “why does Carrie get to push him like this when she has only known him for two hours?” and “just because someone may want something, doesn’t mean we should not respect that stated wish not to do it” and “just because he wants to touch her doesn’t mean he wants to open his whole life to her.” I think a novella HAS to use shorthand and symbolic means to tell its story, and I think Rivers uses them skillfully–they worked for me on many levels–but FOR ME, because the story includes some very serious real issues, I wasn’t comfortable going with that symbolic reading. I wasn’t fully willing to submit to where the story asked me to go.

          I actually thought the story was very good about consent in some ways. For instance, the verbal dance at the start of the phone sex conversation: “if I say this, it will be clear that I want X, if he says that, does he mean Y?” I read that as a lovely and realistic description of implicitly negotiating consent, in which they both participated. Loved that. And when they have sex, Carrie is explicit about stating that she wants it, that Brian asked for her and now he gets her–I think she doesn’t want him to tell himself, later, that he “shouldn’t” have done it, that he doesn’t deserve it, that she didn’t really know what she was getting into. I loved that too.

          My personal thing, and it IS personal, is that when I see a story as working largely on this symbolic level (which I think is a big part of what I mean when I use the term “id vortex”) I am not comfortable with it also including such big real things as Brian’s relationship with Stacy. Because to “use” that symbolically feels exploitative to me. I get that that was not everyone’s experience of the story.

          I think having Carrie be the narrator may further reading the story on this symbolic level, because I really did feel that it avoided confronting the darkest parts of Brian’s experience directly. And that made it harder for me to believe an HEA. Also, a first person, heroine-centered story reads to me as the heroine’s journey. I saw that that was the intention–Carrie, too, was learning to see that her life wasn’t enough for her, or that she could use it to open herself to more–but for me as a reader this part did not go far enough. I really did feel her journey was too easy for me to buy into her as the heroine of her own story. She didn’t have to go down into the underworld. I feel like an awful, sadistic reader for saying this, but I kind of felt comfortable Carrie needed to be cracked, needed to be made less confident in herself and her noble ability to make room in her life for Brian’s attractive pain, needed to recognize the ways she was selfishly using/pushing Brian, to be for me a real heroine. I liked her. I just thought the story evaded too much, and maybe that’s part of being a novella–it has to use shorthand and some of it felt too shorthand to work for me. And maybe it’s partly being a debut. I am asking a LOT of it. I thought it did successfully do many, many things and maybe I’m just unfairly wanting it to be something it did not set out to be, just because I thought so much of it was so good that I wanted it to do the things *I* wanted.

  17. kaetrin says:

    @Sunita – I did feel that Carrie was largely content, that her discontent was a temporal thing and that her decision to be with Brian in such a limited way (as she thought it would be by the end of the book) was borne of that other contentment – that it made that decision possible. But I can see that if the reader thinks she was unhappy, that decision loses its power and becomes a weak and unsatisfying thing, a settling. And, frankly, had I felt that, I would not have enjoyed the book I don’t think.

    @Liz and Sunita – it’s interesting what you’ve both said about the book downplaying other kinds of love (Brian’s for Stacy for example) because I didn’t feel that at all. I wonder why that is? I love these kinds of discussions. It is so fascinating to me to see what other people think and why.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I think by “downplay” I mean that I wanted to SEE it more. I believed it, though–but I guess it was the sacrificial part of that love we saw, the responsibility, more than the emotional connection. And maybe that it really all we can see, the outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace, to borrow a phrase. The moments of joy and pleasure that one might find in this relationship were hinted at indirectly but we didn’t see them. I do feel, though, that I kind of raced through the later part of the book and maybe need to read it again to do it justice/work out what I feel.

      • kaetrin says:

        I guess it was one of the limitations of 1st person POV from Carrie. We were never going to be able to see what was deep inside Brian from so far outside of him, I don’t think. I didn’t realise until well after I’d read the book, but each chapter is just 1 hour. I’m not sure, to be honest, whether I would have liked the book better (or differently) had I known that, but I suspect I would not have (although I’m not sure I can articulate why). But there is only a few “hours” represented in the book and as they are all from Carrie’s POV, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for more of Brian’s struggles. Within the confines of the format, it was enough for me, but it’s definitely a subject ripe for exposition.

      • I thought he was taking care of his sister out of love, yes, but also out of guilt, and I think his selflessness and sacrifice came from a place of selfish self-punishment (I’m on fire with the alliteration!) So that’s what we saw, or at least what we were told (or maybe just how I read it).

    • Sunita says:

      It’s a bit of a Rorschach test, isn’t it? We each see something that’s there, but we diverge on what is dominant in the picture. And I agree, the way one reads the book depends on how one interprets Carrie.

    • Robin says:

      Kelly:

      I can’t help but think that viewing Carrie as unhappy might be projecting the feeling that she *should* be unhappy because she’s in her 30s and single. Or maybe that’s just my happy and fulfilled mid-40s single woman defensiveness.

      I actually think many women should wait to marry until they’re *at least* in their 40s, but that’s another discussion for another day, lol. I absolutely have no problem seeing a woman in her 30s single and happy. It actually irks me when they’re *not* presented that way. I’m curious what in the story made you think she was happy. Because I kept highlighting sentences and paragraphs that indicated (to me) otherwise:

      “Yesterday was hard,” she says, her voice gentle. It was hard. I am sleepless at an unreasonable hour fit only for happy women and happy men tending their spoiled goats.
      …….
      “Glaciers. Not icebergs. Glaciers.” The sliver was deep and drove deeper as I tried to work it free. I’m certain that’s why there were tears in my eyes. I felt Shelley push in close to me, saw her dark fall of hair in my periphery. But I continued to work the sliver, because I knew if I looked at her, I’d break apart, right there in teen collections, for no good reason I could understand.

      “Hey,” she whispered.

      I shook my head. Pushed the sliver in farther.

      “Carrie. Look at me. Come on.”

      “Can’t.”

      She laughed, just a little. Because Shelley is happy. Because what else is there to do when you recognize the signs of an inexplicable breakdown?

      My phone lights up and buzzes from inside my Reading Is Sexy work tote. Fishing for it, I am certain that it’s Shelley, checking on me to make sure I’m not sitting around my apartment alone, obsessing about everyone canning green beans and making babies without me.

      Then, when she meets Brian, she jumps on him like any number of cliches you can articulate and not only *pushes* him, but wants to *hurt* him and make him *sorry* that a guy who has advertised for an hour of kissing in a public park doesn’t want to push past the boundaries he has set up.

      I felt that Carrie pushed Brian because she sensed he *needed* to be pushed. Without Carrie’s persistence, would Brian *ever* have cracked open enough to allow himself to be loved? If she hadn’t shown him and told him that she wanted him – for himself, not for his caregiving abilities – he would have clung to the Saintly Martyr role and continued to push her away. Once he let her in just a little, she backed off and followed his signals about how much he wanted and when.

      I think this is how I was supposed to read her pushing, most definitely. But I just couldn’t. I was thinking about Sunita’s comments re. the change in genders, and I got Lisa Kleypas’s Smooth Talking Stranger in my head, a book where I did not at all mind that kind of pushing you describe. And what, for me, was different from this book is that Jack, right from the start, wants to help Ella do what she’s doing. He’s not functioning from a funk and truly seems to have more resources at that point to give her. He is what I think of as a happy person who is in a position to support his partner. And I just did not get all that from Carrie. I got her TELLING me that, but not really showing me, because so much of the showing was about her “inexplicable breakdown” and her wanting Brian and her pining over Brian and her deciding she will wait for Brian, etc. By virtue of TSG’s length, perhaps, there just wasn’t much narrative room for more.

      Now, again, in the case of the Kleypas book, we have the POV of the caregiver, and Jack is a natural caregiver, as well. I don’t know if that’s Carrie (are we supposed to see her that way, simply because she’s a librarian?). I see her, even after Brian opens up to her, seeing him in terms of HER life — in terms of what he brings to her world and her body and her “Lady of a Certain Age funk.” I felt like everything she admired about Brian was also about her — about how much she wanted him because he was such a wonderful guy. And, as you say, we’re so much in Carrie’s head — but in a really short tale where Carrie’s own POV is limited, as well — that we never really see the relationship related and filled out from both sides. And we never really see much of Carrie’s life outside of Brian, whether he’s physically in it or in it via a personal ad, picture, or IM, and even when we see her friends, they’re often in a counseling role to her. I’m thinking maybe this story just needed more time to develop — more time to know Carrie in the fullness of her life that she keeps talking about; more time to hear Brian’s voice and get to know him and what he loved about Carrie; more time to see how they negotiated all the decisions that led up to Brian’s putting his sister in a facility (even though that’s hinted at when Brian tells Carrie that Social Services has him “on their radar” in a “meaningful” way.

      Reading this as id vortex with a big dollop of hurt-comfort is really the only way I can get around all of the troubling issues I have with the story. And they don’t really solve them — they just explain for me the sound emotional punch this story is delivering.

    • Robin says:

      Liz: I feel like an awful, sadistic reader for saying this, but I kind of felt comfortable Carrie needed to be cracked, needed to be made less confident in herself and her noble ability to make room in her life for Brian’s attractive pain, needed to recognize the ways she was selfishly using/pushing Brian, to be for me a real heroine. I liked her. I just thought the story evaded too much, and maybe that’s part of being a novella–it has to use shorthand and some of it felt too shorthand to work for me.

      Thank you – this is what I was trying to say (in part) in my response to Willaful. I never felt that Carrie had to *show* herself really being challenged in any way. Even when she describes that scene where she takes care of Stacy’s bathing and they have “girl talk” and you get that detail about her laughing, it felt more about her than about Stacy and Brian. And I could not get past that feeling of trivialization of their experience for the purpose of the romance. Had the book been longer, had I gotten Brian’s POV or Carrie’s fuller life, I may have had a completely different take.

      Also, yes, yes, yes to the idea of Carrie being an unreliable narrator. Which is another reason I would have loved some of Brian’s POV here.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        An unreliable narrator is such a rare beast in romance. But I think Carrie is and I think that’s why I found the narrative kind of disorienting at first. (I think she’s unreliable because she’s self-deceiving or because there are things she doesn’t realize she doesn’t understand, not that she’s deliberately deceiving the reader).

      • Robin says:

        Liz: Here’s where I’m struggling — is the issue that Carrie does not recognize certain things, or is it just that the writing is not disciplined enough to convey clearly what we are supposed to get from her? Or maybe a bit of both? I did get the impression that Carrie was telling us she was happy through gritted teeth, and read the “inexplicable breakdown” as ironic (via the authorial voice, not Carrie’s POV). Then there were points where I’d read a phrase and think, huh, pretty but not precisely sensical.

        Still, I keep coming back in my mind to how effective Rivers is in writing the erotic connections between her protags. I’d be very interested in reading a pure ER from her, because I think that may be her natural niche as a writer.

  18. Liz Mc2 says:

    Las and Sunita, I have been thinking about Carrie pushing Brian’s boundaries. I admit that while I noticed this, it didn’t bother me in the context of this story. And while *I* might not forgive a hero who behaved this way, actually I think a lot of readers would/do. Aggressive, boundary-pushing behavior is OFTEN accepted from heroes because we know he is the hero, so it is okay, or we “know” the heroine really wants/needs her boundaries pushed, even if she doesn’t. I guess it is a case of, as Robin says, the reader consenting on his behalf–and I did but I also see why some readers would not.

    I thought it was made clear (though of course we are seeing from Carrie’s POV) that Brian really wants and needs more than that hour with the boundaries he has set. And I have been a person who has set (at least in my own head) boundaries that I did not really want to stick to and was easily pushed past. On the other hand, I was much, much younger than Carrie and Brian when I did that, and the stakes were much lower.

    I would say that this issue is part of what made the story read as pure romantic fantasy for me. And its probably because a lot of it worked best for me at a fantasy level that I was more troubled by the more “realistic” issues of the caregiver part of the story, because for me they did not “fit” easily with the rest. In a way that was dealt with at a “fantasy” kind of level too and I was uncomfortable with that. Not that there is not an understanding of the real issues of caregiving, but it was so easy, as I read it, for Carrie to decide to take on a man with all that baggage (and as Sunita said, he is so committed to going it more or less alone, and IRL I think there would be a lot of issues going along with that). I’m not sure I can express my mixed feelings about this very clearly. But this is partly how Brian read kind of “woobie” to me. And I think this is an id vortex story, so I am not surprised that Sunita had trouble with it. 😉

    • kaetrin says:

      I read something about the id vortex at Radish Reviews and I did Google it again today but for some reason my brain isn’t working and I can’t get it. Is there an “id vortex for dummies” definition somewhere? 🙂

      • Jessica says:

        I just spent 15 minutes Googling id-vortex, even reading Natalie;s post on it from back in Feb. and I really have no idea what it means, perhaps because I don’t know anything about fan fic? Does it just mean the part of the story the writer writes from sexual desire or other “unspeakable/secret/shameful”; desires, that the reader responds to?

      • Jessica, Sunita below gave what to me was a good explanation:

        Id vortex is the place where all your desires converge, i.e., the book hits those things that turn you on emotionally, sexually, etc., so it’s usually high angst and high eroticism in feeling. It’s not usually aimed at your brain as much as at your emotions, though, so it can fall apart, as Liz found, when you overanalyze.

    • Las says:

      Damn, yes, it’s totally id vortex.

      I think the reason I can’t get past Carrie’s pushing is a)Brian’s problems felt too real and b)the relationship just wasn’t there yet. I thought Carrie’s feelings were premature, and I couldn’t chalk it up to romantic fantasy like I often can

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        The blending of what felt like fantasy and what felt real to me was interesting but in the end made me uncomfortable. Similar elements in Knox’s Big Boy worked better for me, and I think it was because heroine and hero had parallel issues and BOTH needed the escape of their fantasy dates, both needed to make space for fantasy in their lives, to recognize that fantasy is part of life, and that is IMO a conscious theme in the book. Here, although at one point Carrie describes Brian as “pure fantasy” or words to that effect, I don’t think the book entirely grapples with the way that fantasy Brian has to give way to real Brian for real love; I didn’t feel that he entirely *did* stop being fantasy man. But I can see how others had a really different reading experience.

  19. Sunita says:

    @Liz: Oh wow, you’re probably right. I assumed this story was NOT an id-vortex story, so the inconsistencies and flaws stood out to me and made me wonder why I was reading so differently than others. I should have been tipped off by the number of people who said they cried through a chunk of it, though. 😉

    If it is an id-vortex story, though, I find the caregiver motif even more problematic, though. It’s a sufficiently charged topic that it’s too easy for it to become a prop to the requirement for angst crack.

    @Kaetrin: Id vortex is the place where all your desires converge, i.e., the book hits those things that turn you on emotionally, sexually, etc., so it’s usually high angst and high eroticism in feeling. It’s not usually aimed at your brain as much as at your emotions, though, so it can fall apart, as Liz found, when you overanalyze. I’m not an id vortex seeker in most of my romance, so I was having that problem from the beginning.

    @Ros: You just said in a couple of sentences what it took me paragraphs to try and say. In my experience, when you hit 35 and you’re still single, your standards for a relationship get higher and more demanding because you *do* like your life. Unless you’re worried about your biological clock, in which case you can make some dumb choices. But then you’re not looking for just kissing, either.

    This book reminds me a bit of the Cowan, in that the author has some interesting ideas but is not in full control of the material. Of the part of the book I’ve read, the writing is more assured, but the characterizations don’t hang together and the motivations are inconsistent.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Yes, that’s what I meant by id vortex. I know this kind of emotional rescue has been a fantasy of MINE, and that is a big part of why I enjoyed the story so much. It’s kind of a form of hurt/comfort, I think. Brian is hurting, and Carrie wants to be the one to comfort him and make him feel better. There’s a realistic reason for this not to be really reciprocal. But in a way the whole story is driving towards the scene where he cries and she rocks him. I think that it IS also a thinky story, or written in a thinky way. And maybe in the end every story comes from the id vortex, and gets more or less of an intellectual filter applied to it. But the more I thought about, the more a pure emotional pull seemed like the point and a big part of the way people talked about it.

      To me this is the line that made me think of this as an id story (or at least, Carrie is approaching it that way at the beginning):

      “My life is cozy, but I’m starting to let myself think I want something wet and aching stabbed through it. I want something substantial. I want to gorge myself. Excess.”

      (I liked a lot of the writing in this book, but not that line, and I think it’s because that’s the id talking, and I’m with Sunita on this one).

      I feel like I’ve talked myself into not liking the book over the course of our discussion, but I did, I did! I definitely understand better now why I didn’t love it. But I also understand why people did, and I still feel there is a lot I did love and admire about it, and I’m excited to see what she does next.

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks for that explanation of id-vortex Sunita!

      I personally think the novella length led to some of these issues. While I agree with Liz that Carrie’s pushing the boundaries didn’t bother me and is a trope a reader can consent to 9and really, he was never in any danger of truly being forced given his much larger size and their public setting), it didn’t sit right with me more because it was too soon to be pushing this guy she didn’t even know. In order to make that work, I needed more indication that it was love and not just lust at first sight.

  20. Kelly says:

    I’m still having THOUGHTS and FEELINGS.

    I think I was on edge in the beginning of the story because of the fantasy element – the kissing only rule, and especially their initial online conversations, felt *very* scripted and unrealistic. Honestly, neither character felt real to me until the phone sex scene – they had finally dropped the awkward forced filters and actually started *talking* to each other. Even if it was dirty talk, heh.

    I’m curious what others think about the “big reveal” scene when Brian shows up at the library after Stacy’s accident. Up until then, he’d been really vague about his “family issues,” and suddenly that choice of divulging everything to Carrie is taken away. I was NOT expecting Brian’s reaction in the conference room – I kept thinking it should have squicked me out, but somehow it really worked for me. That scene convinced me to keep reading, because it was so raw and completely stripped away the fantasy elements.

  21. Okay, I have thoughts that are putting this book firmly in the camp with Ruthie Knox’s BIG BOY and Anna Cowan’s UNTAMED, which is to say, they’re all trying way too hard. To be different, to be edgy, to do this Id Vortex thingie (which is the first time I’ve run up against the term) (thank you, Sunita, for explaining it so well) in such a way so it hopefully can’t be identified as Id Vortex, with poetic prose and anvilicious themes.

    I agree with Sunita on several points, one of which is Carrie’s pushing Brian’s boundaries without regard to his wishes (but of course, she feels she knows his wishes, and she is the anointed one to push those boundaries until they fall down). This is not something a mature, fulfilled woman would do.

    But we know she is not terribly mature (hello, no hardship in her life–although that was acknowledged and given lip service). She has no hobby (what 35-year-old single woman has no hobby? What has she been doing all these years after work? Drinking wine in the dark?). And she does not masturbate very much (is she waiting for Mr. Right to come along and wants to remain pure for him?).

    The prose is lovely but a bit overwrought, some of it doesn’t even make sense, and it felt, well, FAMILIAR. Then I read the “about the author” and then I knew why: MFA. Again, trying too hard.

    And finally, I’m not convinced Carrie will stay with him.

    (Oh, as regards the sister, I figured that out pretty quickly, but it was BECAUSE of its similar setup to BIG BOY. I *think* I would have had no clue otherwise.)

    Now, all that said, you might think I didn’t enjoy it. I did. But the author sat heavy on my shoulders the whole time and so I was too detached to get sucked into the Id Vortex.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Going to come right out and say I guessed about the sister/basic setup right away because people kept tweeting Ridley that they’d be interested in her take on the book.

      That has become a spoiler! (And is kind of unfair).

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        Also, re. the writing, I have now seen one review describe it as “spare” and another as “lush and opulent.” Which makes me think a) writing is hard to describe and b) how we perceive style is very individual. I’m more conscious now of needing to be specific and give examples if I want to talk about prose style, because people mean such different things by the language they use to describe an author’s language.

      • I don’t consider “spare” and “lush and opulent” mutually exclusive. A good writer can pack 1,000 words into 100 if s/he wants to.

      • I should say, can pack a 1,000-word punch into 100 words.

        • Liz Mc2 says:

          Hmm, good point. I don’t think it’s obvious what a reviewer means by terms like that without specifics (and I say this having been guilty of making such vague statements myself).

      • Ros says:

        To me ‘spare’ and ‘lush and opulent’ are diametrically opposed. I know what *I* think they are. But examples are always a good idea when trying to describe style.

    • Jessica says:

      Did you mean to say someone has to experience hardship to be mature? Or have a hobby to be mature? Or masturbate a lot to be mature? I guess this comes down to the reader’s perspective because those things wouldn’t by themselves make me think someone is immature.

      Unlike you and Sunita and others, I didn’t see Carie as unformed or unhappy. She has her independence, a career she loves, friends, a loving family. But she’d like to find a relationship. It’s something she really wants. I don’t think that makes her immature. I mean, it’s not like she’s sitting at home hoping for a prince to rescue her.

      • Do I think one needs hardship to find some maturity? By the time you’re 35, you probably should have had some, yes, and it changes you and, hopefully, makes you more empathetic. Do I think one *needs* a hobby? Perhaps, because other interests deepen you as a person. Do I believe a 35-year-old single woman who hasn’t had a relationship in 2 years but who is as sexually uninhibited as she is doesn’t masturbate much? No. But that is specific to this book, and we *are* discussing this book, right?

        I found Carrie to be *deeply* unhappy, lonely, unfulfilled, and aching for something she can’t put a name to to fill a hole she has in her, and it’s not all about the relationship. It’s also about adventure. That she SAYS she’s happy and content just came off as her lying to herself.

  22. amazing discussion – I would say TSG got me pretty good in the ID Vortex…

  23. Liz Mc2 says:

    I have been thinking more about the id vortex, especially after a Twitter conversation, and wanted to clarify.

    I think this link is helpful, and I think Fremedon’s point that fan writers “have a toolbox for writing this stuff really really well” and making literature out of it is important. (Though I don’t think the fanfic approach is the only one). Because an id vortex story does not mean “bad,” though it may be part of what people mean when they say “crackalicious.” Obviously a writer who moved as many people as Mary Ann Rivers did, who makes them fall in love with her story and characters, is doing something very right. Nor do I think this story is all about the emo with no brain or craft involved. Clearly not.

    I would say that *I* personally approach with suspicion stories that feel to me as if they are aimed primarily at my emotions, or at creating a *particular* emotional response, and via subject matter that feels like “fantasy” to me. (There’s probably a reason I’ve never been tempted to read or write fanfic, though I have made up some interesting stories in my head now and then). It’s crying at the end of a book that sells Carrie on being a librarian. That isn’t the reading experience I, personally, value most. But that’s a matter of personal taste; I do not mean it as a quality judgment. I want my brain and my heart to be equally engaged. I want an author to give me the story and let me make up my mind about how/if I feel, and stories I label “id vortex” give me the sense my feelings are being DIRECTED in a way I may not be comfortable with (which is a pretty sloppy and unclear and individual definition, I know, but I think some sense of unease with liking something is part of “crackilicious” reads–why else borrow the term from a dangerous, illegal drug? This kind of story is basically MY version of book crack. So was Big Boy, really.)

    I was uneasy with the way parts of this story fit together and I thought it avoided some of the darkest emotions that would be a part of a relationship like Brian and Carrie’s and went for the sweeter/swoonier ones. When I do love and respond to what I see as an “id vortex” story, I am kind of like Mr Darcy falling for Elizabeth Bennet: against my will, and even against my character. I did fall for a lot in this story, too, so there you go.

    I am enjoying this discussion so much! Thank you all for coming to talk about it. It has greatly enriched my already enjoyable experience of reading The Story Guy.

  24. Robin says:

    Okay, I finally finished. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Liz and Sunita, for mentioning the id vortex, because recognizing that early on allowed me to finish the novella without being as troubled as I otherwise would have been. Also, hurt-comfort – yes, definitely. I mean, look at passages like this one:

    He’s going to follow his own rules, and I had been trying to meet him there, stay on some kind of equal terms, hoping trust might move this out of our pergola and into his complications, but fuck that. If he’s only going to give me an hour once a week, and I’m never going to feel his beautiful, white-knuckled hands on my body, I am going to make him so very, very sorry.

    “Shhh,” I say, as if I am going to soothe him. He goes back to my neck, shuddering, kissing softly under my chin. I stretch into the kiss, sigh, and then I tug the hem of the dress shirt under his sweater and drag it out of his waistband, the cotton shushing, the buttons clicking, one by one, past his belt buckle.

    “Carrie,” he growls. It is a warning and a plea. My name in his desperate mouth. I feel bad. So gorgeously bad. I want this to hurt.

    And then just a few paragraphs later:

    I’m arm’s length now, but the way our gazes are locked, I feel like we’re still pressed together. His cheeks are red, the deep divot of his cupid’s bow is puffy. His glasses are seriously crooked.

    The impulse to torment him has given way to a craving to spoil him, coddle him, get on my knees for him, and let him use my mouth to completely let go. I slide toward him, but the squeeze he gives my shoulders stops me.

    It’s only two meetings in and not only does she want to push against his boundaries, but she wants it to HURT. Then she wants to SOOTHE. In both cases, it’s all about her. And I feel like the whole story kind of plays this dynamic out on a broader scale.

    I have so many intersecting thoughts about this novella that I’m not sure I can really be clear about them. But I’ll start with the comparison to Broken, because I was thinking about that a lot while I was reading. In Broken, the narrator is the caretaker, so we get to see all the difficult issues she faces and the complexities in the feelings she’s developing for another man, while she is in a marriage that in so many ways is over, except that it’s not. It’s difficult and messy and it’s easy to feel both her yearning and her guilt. By making Carrie the narrator, The Story Guy kind of takes the easy way out, IMO, both for the characters and for the reader. Like others have noted, we see Brian as this idealized guy, and not only does that make him a little flat to me, but it also problematizes Carrie’s feeling for him, in the sense that she IMO becomes another needy person in his life who looks to him to rescue her.

    For example, take the scene where she comes home after a week at work, cranky because she’s still alone, lonely (other people are “making babies” without her — which is only one of the many mentions of her loneliness and discontent, despite the few times she tells us she’s happy, something I did not believe for one second) and the library is losing funding, and then Brian calls her (after she’s forced her number onto his phone), and she literally tells him that he’s “fixed that” crankiness and loneliness. Then just look at the pattern of Carrie’s aggression with Brian early on, her discontent with keeping his boundaries and her IMO immature desire to “hurt” him by making him “sorry” he won’t touch her more intimately. Beyond the issue of whether that’s the behavior of a happy, content, woman, I find it indicative of the way Carrie is — without realizing it — looking to Brian to fulfill her, and I feel like that pattern continues even after she discovers the truth of his life and becomes part of his life with Stacey.

    In fact, I found this detail very revealing: “I’m not used to not getting what I want. I’ve never had to throw a tantrum, or give up, or anything. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. I want this. I want you. And I don’t want Wednesdays-Only Brian, I want you, braids-his-sister’s-hair-fights-with-social-workers-BRFCA Brian. I want to steal two hours and eat pancakes, with you. I want to have a bad day and go home and have phone sex with you. I want to skip lunch and make out—”

    It’s all about what SHE wants, and about her insistence that she has always gotten what she wants. And later, this:

    The care he gives her one day could be the thing that hurts her the next. To live with that fear, and never have any confirmation that anything you did was the right thing?

    It’s astonishing, every kiss he’s ever given me.

    Everything about Brian eventually comes back to Carrie and her wants and her needs. I’m not sure how much of this is about her being the narrator and how much is about a guy like Brian needing to be a caretaker and therefore someone to take care of. And not being able to know Brian made me feel like I couldn’t really understand him and Carrie together in a way that honored all the complexities they had to negotiate.

    Even her care for Brian and Stacey feels needy to me. The way she becomes part of Stacey’s care, a virtual stranger who suddenly begins to handle the intimate care of this woman who has always had Brian to herself. And the fact that Stacey seems aware of their discussion in her smiles and her laughter made me extremely uncomfortable and emotionally manipulated. And beyond all the issues I had with the use of a storyline like Stacey’s, in some ways I felt like Brian traded one needy woman for another, but in the second case, does she have similarly compelling reasons for requiring Brian’s attentions to her body and her soul? I know I’m supposed to say yes, but I don’t think the story brought me there.

    A few months ago I was discussing Ruthie Knox’s How To Misbehave with a friend, who pointed out that the hero of the story was not really the one who deserved the happy ending. It was his brother, who was the real tragic case, but who seemed mostly in the story to set up the hero’s backstory, which was one of sadness and guilt. Like Carrie, the hero of HTM was the easier case, and therefore all the guilt he felt for something that was really his brother’s burden was much easier to expiate. Yet once I was invited to shift perspective to the other brother — a mere secondary character who did not get a happy ending — I felt like the story was unfair to and trivializing of his real pain. And it became more difficult for me to enjoy the romantic happiness the brother found. It wasn’t just that it was bittersweet — I felt a little manipulated and I felt like the tragic brother was being used as a bit of a prop for the sake of the other brother (the hero).

    I felt something similar in TSG, because I didn’t dislike Carrie at all. I didn’t feel she was undeserving of love, and I really, really wanted her to be as happy and content as she kept telling us she was. But I felt like the person who was the most in need of love and care – Stacey – kind of gets pushed out of the way at the end of the story to make room for Carrie as Brian’s main caregiving project. Even though I think what Brian did was probably the best thing medically for Stacey — and I certainly think he should be able to live his life — I had a difficult time understanding, completely, what made Carrie so utterly compelling to him. Because I never really got to know him beyond his caretaking role, and that seemed a logical draw for a woman with the neediness of Carrie. There were moments where I really felt like Carrie’s main appeal for Brian was the fact that she was a librarian, and that is not a good place to be as a reader. Maybe, had I gotten both Carrie and Brian’s POV’s, I would have felt like I knew both of them better.

    Now, if I just see TSG as id vortex with a certain species of hurt-comfort mixed in, it’s definitely easier for me to fall into the fantasy of Brian and Carrie as an expression of this great passion and sense of connection and urgency about the moment and all the other stuff that’s warring with the very difficult dilemmas on which all that fantasy is built. And as others have pointed out, some of the language is quite lovely (one of my favorite sentences: “I’m breathless, and I’m topless, and he still has his coat on.”). Some of the language felt overwrought and like it was trying too hard to be meaningful, but some of it was really quite nice. I thought the overtly sexual scenes were really, really well done, from the phone sex scene to the first time they are sexually together at Carrie’s apartment. The way Rivers focused on the physicality was beautiful and erotic and sensuous, marrying the sacred and the profane in the way Romance so often aspires to but cannot quite achieve (although I, too, hate the spelling “cum” ). By far those were my favorite scenes of the book, and I’m one of those readers who’s grown bored with a lot of the so-called “erotic” prose in the genre. I really hope Rivers continues to write erotically charged Romance.

    But in the end I feel like everything that was supposed to seduce me to a particular emotional place pushed me in the opposite direction. Instead of feeling like Carrie, Brian, and Stacey were bringing each other into a better place, I felt like they were being used and manipulated and in some cases sacrificed to create certain emotional effects and pleasures that I could not, finally, enjoy without feeling like I was doing so at the expense of people with really serious problems.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Oh, thank you so much for this, Robin. Because I was too lazy to go back and pull out quotations, but you have put your finger on exactly the things that made me uncomfortable, with good examples! Yes to everything you say, both critical and positive here. And the point about Carrie wanting it to hurt Brian (I’d forgotten that) helps me understand why the story would have been deeper and more real to me if HE had hurt HER at some point–she would have seemed vulnerable, he would have seemed more human and less fantasy caregiver.

      • willaful says:

        the care he gives her one day could be the thing that hurts her the next. To live with that fear, and never have any confirmation that anything you did was the right thing?

        It’s astonishing, every kiss he’s ever given me.

        That, to me, is not about Carrie’s selfish needs. That’s Carrie recognizing how much it’s cost Brian to meet any of her needs. If she is selfish, that’s the beginning of her reformation.

        • Liz Mc2 says:

          Oh, that is a really good point. This discussion is so great–it’s made me reread some chunks, and want to reread the whole thing in light of everything that’s been said, and see how my reading might shift.

      • Robin says:

        That, to me, is not about Carrie’s selfish needs. That’s Carrie recognizing how much it’s cost Brian to meet any of her needs.

        Oh, I absolutely agree. The thing is, though, that one can still be selfish in the recognition of how much someone else has done for them and others. Just that recognition alone does not make the reaction unselfish, IMO. I think one of the reasons I have a hard time viewing it otherwise is that the trajectory of the story after that is not one in which Carrie sacrifices substantially or for a long time. The story moves pretty swiftly to Brian making the decision to place Stacey in a facility, which will give them all the time in the world. Sure, she’s taking snippets of time for a while, but hell, a lot of couples do that with much less seriousness imposing between them.

        I know I’m not going to be able to articulate this well, but I kept feeling like the relative luxury Carrie had in her life, and even her recognition of it, was more a mark of that only-child-syndrome she refers to a couple of times. That it was more a confirmation of her privilege than any real test of her commitment or her ability to sacrifice or NOT get what she wanted at any point in her life. And that may be a function of the story’s length and the limitations of the single narrator’s voice, but it was just something that kept cropping up for me and diminished my ability to sign on to her POV.

        • willaful says:

          “The story moves pretty swiftly to Brian making the decision to place Stacey in a facility, which will give them all the time in the world. ”

          I don’t think that’s accurate. Even with Stacey in a facility, I can’t believe Brian (and Carrie) won’t still be spending significant time visiting her and advocating for her. There’s no denying that the decision will free his life up quite a lot, but I think the ending is far less deus ex machina than this reading makes it sounds. Instead it’s the almost inevitable outgrowth of an impossible situation in which neither Brian nor Stacey’s needs were being properly met.

    • Great comment, Robin. You articulated some things I was thinking and others I was feeling but hadn’t yet put into thoughts.

  25. Sunita says:

    @Kelly:

    I can’t help but think that viewing Carrie as unhappy might be projecting the feeling that she *should* be unhappy because she’s in her 30s and single.

    After reading Kaetrin’s review, where she said she saw Carrie as content (thanks Kaetrin for the clarification), I went into the story expecting her to be that way. But instead it read to me as if she tried to convince herself she was content, not that she really was.

    Speaking only for myself, when I was single and 35 I was mostly happy with my life, especially on the personal front. So I didn’t expect Carrie to be unhappy/discontented, and I was quite disappointed when I realized she didn’t seem to be. I *wanted* to read about a 35-year-old woman who wasn’t envious of others’ relationships, but found the right man and discovered she could be even happier than she was. This was not what I found.

  26. willaful says:

    Years ago, the Utne Reader printed a carton which showed a coffin, and a thought balloon coming from it that said, “I’m not dying, this is just a panic attack, I’m not dying, this is just a panic attack.” And someone wrote them a very angry letter about how demeaning that cartoon was to people with panic disorders — which I found really surprisingly, because I have severe anxiety and panic attacks, and I thought the cartoon was hilarious and captured the experience in a way I find difficult to explain. It seemed clear as day to me that the cartoon was drawn by someone who knows what it’s like.

    I’m reminded of that now, because this book spoke to me so much as a caregiver, and the catharsis I felt at having a beautiful romance that reflected my isolating, hard to describe experience was immense. That, for me, is not manipulation.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I feel that the differing responses discussed here have at least as much to do with what the reader brings to the book as with what’s on the page (which, I guess, DUH!). I don’t just mean personal experiences, but how we feel about and think about our personal experiences, and also our taste in storytelling. I know it’s obvious that this is the case, but I always appreciate the way that discussions like this remind me of that fact, and help illuminate *why* we all read so differently.

    • Robin says:

      I’m reminded of that now, because this book spoke to me so much as a caregiver, and the catharsis I felt at having a beautiful romance that reflected my isolating, hard to describe experience was immense. That, for me, is not manipulation.

      I think all fiction involves manipulation, because the author is trying to get the reader to invest in a story, which requires training our emotions and our thoughts to a certain narrative (classical tragedy was all about generating a catharsis in the audience). It’s just that in this story I felt like I was in the middle of a tug of war between where Carrie seemed to want me to go and where the story as a whole was taking me. So what should have been a positive experience of manipulation for me was not, in the end, so much that. That it was for you, though, and that all of us had strong reactions to the story, is definitely a reflection of Rivers’s strength as an emotionally charged writer, IMO.

    • Robin says:

      Willaful: I think there is an unfortunate choice of words in the section where Brian and Carrie are touring the facility. It’s here:

      “How about we look at the family-and-friends visiting areas. There’s a nice garden in our courtyard where visitors like to spend time with residents.” We start to follow her through the open French doors, and she perceptively walks ahead to let us talk. Brian catches my gaze with his. “Every single week, at least,” I whisper.

      All I could think at that moment was that Stacy (sorry, I’ve been misspelling her name!) will now be the once a week visit, while Carrie will become the every day person. I know that’s probably an unfair interpretation, and I understand everything you’re saying and am quite sure I am supposed to have taken exactly what you did away from the story. But my inner editor had many moments of feeling that the writing in this story was uncontrolled in certain ways, that there were inconsistencies in Carrie’s self-presentation and conflicts in how the story was rolling out v. how the relationship was developing, such that I simultaneously felt like the story needed more space and time to roll out and more discipline in terms of the actual prose.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        That line also made me feel that Carrie would be in charge of deciding how often they would visit, that she was giving him permission. I don’t think that was the intention AT ALL–rather, she was reassuring him that they weren’t selfishly cutting Stacy out of their lives so they could be free. But it cut both ways and it’s partly the echo of once a week, as you say.

        I’d also say that when I get down to picking at details of wording like this, it’s because the overall writing is so strong that it’s drawn my attention to nuances of language. If the writing is more pedestrian or weaker grammatically, you can’t even attend to those nuances. I agree it sometimes felt indulgent/undisciplined to me, but then, that fit thematically; it was perhaps a deliberate choice (and again, a lot of this also has to do with my personal taste and preferences in style).

      • willaful says:

        “All I could think at that moment was that Stacy (sorry, I’ve been misspelling her name!) will now be the once a week visit, while Carrie will become the every day person. ”

        Is it wrong of me think that’s the right and appropriate outcome? In my case, my caregiving is for my child, and I signed on for it when I decided to have a child. And it comes with its own rewards, and doesn’t stop me from having a loving relationship with my husband, though it certainly is a huge relationship stressor and impacts on our time together.

        I would be far more conflicted with having to give up the majority of my life for my sister. I love her, I would want to help her if she needed me, but that’s not something I signed on for. I would be bitterly resentful if having to care for her meant having to give up my chances for a relationship and a new family.

        • Liz Mc2 says:

          No, I don’t think that’s wrong at all. I thought Brian–and everyone–deserved a life outside of caregiving, that he had sacrificed so much, and I was happy that he was allowing himself to have more in his life at the end (I hope he gets a job he likes better, too!). That line about how he had to give up ambition and so much else, and so young, was heart-wrenching and very, very real.

          I think, though, that I was uncomfortable only seeing this all from Carrie’s POV, for some of the reasons Robin points out. I can’t exactly put my finger on why.

          I guess it’s this: in a lot of ways, the STORY is Brian’s journey (I mean, even the title suggests that). But the NARRATIVE is Carrie’s. That just felt . . . off to me. Like she owned his story and his experiences. Carrie talks that way sometimes. Discomfiting for me, and I’m not sure it was meant to be.

          I can’t explain my reaction more clearly than that, and that’s not all that clear.

      • Robin says:

        Liz: I keep going back to Brie’s comment about how she liked that Carrie was portrayed as somewhat selfish. And I realize that I could never really get into a space of liking or disliking Carrie, because I just couldn’t sink into her narrative (or completely reject it, either). And I think it was at least in part because I never trusted that her unreliability was intentional or mastered by the authorial voice. Like you point out, that one line can be read as Carrie giving Brian permission, when, in fact, it’s obviously not supposed to be read that way. But by echoing that weekly language, boom, it’s right there, isn’t it?

        It was like if I followed Carrie assiduously, I kept hitting these walls, and if I veered off the path of her own narrative, I had nowhere else to go, really, because beyond that was all speculation and no other POV’s to grab on to. Now I think I need to go back and read Knox’s Big Boy to suss out the similarities and differences. It’s interesting to see these three variations on the same theme, so to speak.

      • Robin says:

        Willaful: Is it wrong of me think that’s the right and appropriate outcome?

        NO!

        I think one of the reasons I find this story so difficult is that there are real, complex issues and life choices that for me become imperiled by the elements of the genre Romance. For me, once I start talking about what, in a real life situation, I think should be the ideal scenario, it’s a different conversation, and the “romance narrative” part of the discussion becomes interference.

        For me, the issue is not that Brian and Carrie have a happy, fulfilled life together (I mean, there are many valid arguments to be made that Brian’s decision to care for Stacy at home was seflish and self-destructive in a certain way, too). I don’t begrudge or judge or discourage that at all for Brian. My problem is that because I’m only getting Carrie’s perspective and don’t have the experience Brian does, I cannot connect to Brian in the same way you can. I can only do this through Carrie’s narrative, and her narrative does not give me great confidence that SHE really sees, understands, accepts, and is a great partner for Brian, for all of the reasons I’ve been talking about. In some strange way, while Brian is the designated caretaker for Stay, Carrie, as the only narrator, becomes the caretaker of everyone else’s stories. And I don’t find her to be the best caretaker of Brian’s character and story, because I find her unreliable, inconsistent, unchallenged and maybe a little immature, and I am never convinced she is what Brian needs, let alone whether he’s what she needs.

      • I guess it’s this: in a lot of ways, the STORY is Brian’s journey (I mean, even the title suggests that). But the NARRATIVE is Carrie’s.

        YES! Except I viewed it that she almost forcibly appropriated his story.

        • Liz Mc2 says:

          “I’m a librarian. I can work from the outside in.”

          That line really, really bothered me. My response when I read it was “who the fuck do you think you are, lady? he’s not a library book.”

      • Robin says:

        Liz: Robin, it’s like we have the same brain on this story.

        I think I’m ceding you my half of the brain, because I am almost tapped out, lol.

      • Ros says:

        I was more shocked by that line than almost anything else in the book. Once a week? After being her full time caregiver for years? That, to me, was the death knell for Carrie in her selfish, entitled view of the world.

        I don’t think she’ll leave Brian, but I do think he’ll leave her. Once he’s had a little breathing space and has a little bit more time and freedom in his life, I think he’ll see that he doesn’t love Carrie at all. He just loved the escape she represented at that time.

  27. Kelly says:

    I would just like to add that I feel very smart after reading all this 🙂

  28. Las says:

    @Robin:

    “The thing is, though, that one can still be selfish in the recognition of how much someone else has done for them and others. Just that recognition alone does not make the reaction unselfish, IMO. ”

    I agree, but beyond her selfishness (which I don’t have a big problem with up to a point), my main issue with Carrie’s thoughts is how romantically she views Brian’s life. I never got the sense that she got beyond the honeymoon phase of having this wonderful man in her life. Even her acknowledgment of how difficult things are for him is filtered through rose-colored glasses–she never once expresses any frustration. I finished the book with the feeling that the relationship hadn’t been tested at all, that if Stacy had continued to live with them, or if 5 years from now Brian would still refuse to travel for any longer than a week, Carrie would walk.

    • Sunita says:

      Yes, this is exactly it for me too. I read your GR review, Las, and it really resonated for me. Those passages you quoted from the later part of the book made me very uncomfortable.

      I agree that Carrie is an unreliable narrator, that’s a great insight from Robin and Liz. But the problem is that we don’t know *why* she’s unreliable, so it’s harder to make sense of her POV.

    • Robin says:

      Las: my main issue with Carrie’s thoughts is how romantically she views Brian’s life. I never got the sense that she got beyond the honeymoon phase of having this wonderful man in her life. Even her acknowledgment of how difficult things are for him is filtered through rose-colored glasses–she never once expresses any frustration.

      Yes, I completely agree. That scene where she bathes Stacy testifies to what you’re saying, IMO. I think I see Carrie’s idealism of Brian intertwined with her selfishness in the way it reflected a self-centered need to be in love and in a relationship with this (in her rose-colored view) wonderful man, but as Sunita says, we’re deprived of a lot of information we need to make a full analysis of Carrie’s life. I don’t question that Brian is a good guy, but he remains more of a symbol of something rather than a whole person, which can make it difficult to invest in a long-term happy ending for them as a couple. Maybe this is why people see Carrie as immature?

      • Kaetrin says:

        I saw Carrie as making a deliberate decision NOT to become frustrated with the limited time Brian could give her – this, in direct opposition to Brian’s previous brushes with relationships and which led him to believe he could only have 1 hour a week to himself (if that).

        I did see Carrie as mostly content and because of that, I saw her ability to give that to Brian as coming from that place.

        Generally, I also agree with Willaful above as well. I think the narrative skipped a few months forward for romance purposes to when after some months together (which we did not really see), Brian began the process of looking into residential care. It was clear that this had not been pushed for by Carrie because she didn’t know about it. However, at the end of the book, no firm decision had been made. Brian was just considering it and it is a matter for the reader to decide whether he would proceed quickly. Given how long it took Brian to come at the idea of a facility, I’m thinking the process is actually likely to take a long time). I think the care thing was there for 2 reasons – 1 because Stacy was needing/beginning to need that level of care and 2 because we first and foremost the book is a romance and readers wanted to see a way for Carrie and Brian to be together for more than 1 hour a week. I didn’t read that ending as somehow meaning that Carrie was taking Brian away from Stacy. Not even close.

        I didn’t actually notice the “every week” comment by Carrie (and really, Brian is far more likely to spend more than once a week with Stacy if she goes into care and she should know him better than that) but as a person who has had to put someone into care (my dad) I know that one of the things I said to myself to make the concept more palatable was “I’ll come visit often” and I read her comment as in that vein.

  29. Jessica says:

    Wel, it looks like it’s down to me and Willaful defensing Carrie! As the discussion has progressed, Carrie has become an unreliable narrator, immature, and selfish. It’s amazing how differently we can read these books. To me, when the objective facts of a person’s life line up pretty well with what many people in our culture consider a good life, and when the person’s consciousness reflects a feeling of contentment, I believe it. I’m not seeing the textual evidence for “oh, we know what’s really going on Carrie.”

    Carrie seems to long for a romantic and sexual relationship, although I agree this longing is not well articulated in the text by her thoughts as much as by her behavior. Would it have been more satisfying for other readers if Carrie admitted that she longed for those things and that not having them made her feel a little unfulfilled? Is that the problem? Or is it that other readers don’t like the idea of reading a book about a woman who is happy in the other aspects of her life but really feels unfulfilled because she does not have a deep romantic and sexual relationship? (It’s possible that my view of this is affected by the fact that I have a very good friend who fits Carrie’s profile pretty darn well, down to the age and lack of a hobby.)

    I also don’t understand the point about Carrie being selfish. I get the unease with her pushing Brian on the bench, but I think that’s down to the novella length. Another scene or two — as I mentioned upthread, especially a scene that explored a kind of “love at first sight” on Carrie’s part the way Brian’s “please” comment did for him — and it would read like any romance novel with a tortured hero/ine who needs to be pushed a little to overcome a kind of emotional stuckness. Far from Brian being Carrie’s caretaker, if anything I was maybe a little uncomfortable with the idea that Carrie was so ready to jump into the stereotypically feminine role of being Brian’s nurturer. But as others have noted, she’s been an only child and hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to really give of herself in difficult ways, so this made sense to me. The passage about “once a week”, which reads to others like some kind of a contest Carrie is putting on between how many days she gets versus how many days Stacy gets read very differently to me. I saw it as very reassuring way to communicate to Brian that in fact he will never have to choose between them. That bringing Carrie in to the picture will enhance his relationship with Stacy and even Stacy’s life.

    As far as Carrie romanticizing the challenges ahead with Stacy, not to mention her perfect new man, that’s probably true, but isn’t common to be in honeymoon stage at the beginning of a romantic relationship?

    I do understand — but disagree with — the idea that if people aren’t really tested they can’t know who they are or what they want, and aren’t “mature” as a result. (People can face challenges very badly and end up less mature and more fucked up as a result.) But, at any rate, I don’t mind reading about a protagonist who has had a regular happy uneventful life, and I don’t see that kind of person as somehow not ready for an HEA. But maybe I am not full grasping that point?

    Moriah, I’ll give you the point about the disconnect between rarely masturbating yet being so ready to dive into sex with a stranger. That *is* odd. !

    • willaful says:

      ” if anything I was maybe a little uncomfortable with the idea that Carrie was so ready to jump into the stereotypically feminine role of being Brian’s nurturer.”

      I felt the same, but it was balanced for me by how much thought she put into pursuing the relationship.

      Great defense, Jessica. 🙂

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      In my own defense, I’ll just say that “unreliable narrator” is a literary technique, not a character judgment.

      I did not always trust Carrie’s statements about her life, at the start. And so I wasn’t sure how much I could trust her statements about other things. I am fine with a basically content heroine who decides she wants more/different/romance. Maybe at the start she is just coming to admit that to herself, but what I felt while reading it was she wasn’t sure, and I couldn’t figure out, how happy she was.

      I also saw Carrie as (wanting to be) Brian’s caretaker. But I saw her (and this is based on some of the statements people have quoted, among others) as doing it because it gave something to *her*, because she wanted the emotional charge it gave her, and the feeling of being strong enough to take on his pain. I think this is a very natural feeling. The fantasy of caring for a wounded guy like this is very powerful and it’s one I respond to (by which I mean I have daydreams like this) and part of why I found this to be a really enjoyable and emotional read as I was reading. But again, for me as a reader that fit awkwardly with the serious, realistic depiction of caretaking. I do agree that it’s partly an issue of the novella length. I thought Rivers handled the format well in terms of the emotional pacing, the scenes she chose, etc. but maybe for me the issues of this book were just too big to be dealt with satisfactorily in a novella (I had similar feelings about Big Boy, which left some threads hanging/introduced things it never really explored). To believe in an HEA for these two, I needed to see Carrie get past the honeymoon and know she could handle a dark moment. I still don’t really think she had one.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        After this I will shut up because I am tired of my own voice.

        I am fine with Carrie not understanding what she’s really getting into at the start. Do we ever understand, when we make a promise or a vow, what we’re signing on for? We have to live into it to know its meaning (something else I just read, plus my anniversary, had me thinking about this). I just didn’t ever believe that she grew in understanding, though I do completely see how/why/that others read it differently. Though I am not generally a fan of epilogues, maybe I wanted one here, a little vignette to show me that she got past the honeymoon stage and had really come to grips with the reality of life with Brian. The ending scene didn’t make *me* feel that way. YMMV–and, in many cases, clearly does! (In saying all this I am not saying she is immature. Not sure if I used that word, but if I did it was a mistake–not the issue I had).

    • Las says:

      I’m a very unromantic romance reader, so when I feel a character is “blinded” by love by the end of the story the hea doesn’t work for me. It’s kind of like that friend who’s totally in love but there are some glaring problems that everyone notices but her. And then a few years later when it’s over she looks back thinking “How did I not see that?” The Story Guy felt like the backstory to a reunited lovers story, where the couple look back and reflect on how and why their relationship fell apart even though they loved each other so much. I don’t doubt Carrie and Brian’s feelings for each other, but I do think they’ve jumped into this relationship at a vulnerable time in their lives without really thinking things through.
      Part of my problem is that I actually related to Carrie a lot in the beginning, so when she bulldozed her way into Brian’s life, and then sort fo trivialized Brian and Stacy’s reality by viewing it so romantically, I was like, “No! That’s not how YOU are supposed than act!” I didn’t think of her as too selfish (and I don’t think selfishness is a bad thing, necessarily); I thought she was laying a really shaky foundation.

  30. This will sound contradictory, but in my mind it’s not.

    Did I think Carrie was selfish? Yes. But it was the selfish enthusiasm of a naive, inexperienced, probably introverted, romantic. The flush of possibility, the hope of a future with a good man, the excitement of a new adventure.

    So in that respect, I liked her selfishness because who amongst us hasn’t been THERE? It was cute and sweet. She’s not a bad person. She’s loving and caring.

    I didn’t have this OH NO SHE DI’INT moment with her. It was just a series of tsks as she went along baring her rose-colored glasses to the world, and a sad moment at the end because I could see no good end for either of them–and I couldn’t imagine it NOT ending.

    I saw this relationship of hers with Brian as part of her widening her experience and she would take those lessons into the next relationship. And it was something that should’ve happened ten years before.

    • Robin says:

      Moriah: I saw this relationship of hers with Brian as part of her widening her experience and she would take those lessons into the next relationship. And it was something that should’ve happened ten years before.

      Exactly. I think one of the reasons Carrie felt younger to me is that it seemed like Brian was her first love, and she became enraptured and filled with him in the way one does in those early days of early love. It’s like the honeymoon stage to the 10th power, and in that place it’s difficult not to measure the relationship by your own emotional responses.

      And for me, Brian just didn’t seem like a good starter relationship, because he’s a guy with such a complex, responsibility-filled life that I felt he was more a master’s level relationship prospect. Maybe this is where the length comes in again (although at what point does the question arise of why this format was chosen), because if I had a sense of Carrie having a fuller romantic past, I might have been able to see her as a comprehending optimist than rather than just naively enthusiastic.

  31. Kaetrin says:

    See, I thought that the months between their “reconciliation” after her own personals ad and the end where Brian contemplated getting Stacy into residential care indicated that their romance had moved beyond the honeymoon stage.

    Thank you for your defence above Jessica – I agree. 🙂

    Upthread there is a reference to Carrie being the caretaker of Brian’s story. I don’t know if it was intentional or not on the author’s part but reading that description my immediate response was “well, she’s a librarian – that’s what they do – take care of other people’s stories” (Obviously librarians to a lot more than that too!). In any event, the concept of Carrie taking care of Brian’s story was fine with me and for my part, I trusted her to do it.

    • willaful says:

      “I don’t know if it was intentional or not on the author’s part but reading that description my immediate response was “well, she’s a librarian – that’s what they do – take care of other people’s stories””

      Nice, Kaetrin! I identified more with Brian than with any other character, and I had no problems with it either.

      I also had enough sense of the passage of time to feel that the relationship was established. I don’t think there’s anything honeymoonish or romantic about helping someone care for someone who’s severely disabled. Shit gets real pretty damn fast.

      • Kaetrin says:

        Yes, I agree. I thought that when, after some time had passed and Brian allowed Carrie into his home when Stacy was there and, after they’d all spent some time together (in the park etc,) included Carrie a little in Stacy’s care (Carrie helped Stacy bathe that time), that this all showed that Carrie knew what she was getting into. I didn’t feel that Stacy was disrespected in that. My impression was that Stacy had had some time with Carrie and at the end of the scene when Carrie hears Stacy laugh for the first time, this indicated to me that Stacy wasn’t unhappy with the situation. I didn’t feel that Carrie had gone all Single White Female and was trying to force her way into Stacy’s life or take over from Brian. I read it as her wanting to be more involved and to help but not in an icky way.

        My impression was that Brian’s previous relationships had not involved anyone accepting Stacey’s presence in his life and had not involved the girlfriend (for want of a better term) wanting to know Stacy at all. I’m not sure how long dealing with the reality of Stacy’s medical needs could be considered “romantic”.

  32. Liz Mc2 says:

    As this discussion winds to a close (though I’m not trying to kill it!), I want to thank everyone. We had pretty divergent points of view, and some of the subject matter is very personal to some of us, and yet (despite occasionally getting annoyed) we had a respectful, thoughtful discussion that engaged the book in depth. I love my corner of the internet! You all pushed me to think hard about my own response, and though I do have “my” reading of the book, I don’t think anyone else is wrong. I look forward to re-reading with your insights in mind, and seeing what I make of the story another time. I’m so grateful to all of you for sharing your thoughts.

    I’m grateful, too, to Mary Ann Rivers for writing this book. Not every book would sustain or provoke such a discussion. I feel as if I read too much romance that’s playing it safe: it’s trope-driven, it’s aimed at being marketable, its prose is bland. I wouldn’t say any of that about this book. It struck me as driven by ideas and characters (though we may identify familiar tropes and elements in it), its prose is distinctive, it goes all in for the author’s vision of the story rather than making compromises. We might–well, we did–disagree about how successful it is, but it takes risks. And it’s because of that that there are so many different readings and points of view, I think. It offers us so much to work on.

    I would much, much rather read more books like this, maybe messy and imperfect in some readers’ view, but DOING something, than tidy, bland, middle-of-the-road books. Here’s to many more such reading experiences, from Rivers and others.

  33. Joopdeloop says:

    Hah – as someone who loves lurking through many of all y’all’s blogs/ reviews/ comments (current or retired), I feel like I just read one of those comic books where you get all your favorite superheroes to throw down all at once. I’m feeling a little destroyed, overwhelmed and schooled, but hot damn that was grueling fun. (If only Teddy Pig, Ridley and Mean Old Fat Bat had weighed in, my day wd be complete) I did like this novella but I’m now busy sorting through which of my DIKs fall into id vortex and which might fall apart under such meticulous scrutiny. Thank you all for a great read/ride.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      This really made me laugh (and thanks). There’s a way in which I feel I’m standing in the middle of a destroyed town after an epic battle, and I have a lot of old favorite books I’d avoid looking at in the way I’ve looked at this one, because I just want to preserve the magic of my initial reading.

      I’d say, though, that the many strengths of the book have survived the battle, and that I still like and admire it.

      • willaful says:

        Yeah, I’m wondering now if I want to follow the To Have and to Hold thread. 😉 Though I think I’ve probably already heard it all regards that one!

  34. I finished reading about half an hour ago and haven’t read through most of these comments yet. While I found the story very readable, the dialogue terrific and the kisses hot (more so than the actual sex), the more I think about it–and I have only been thinking about it for half an hour–the more it falls apart.

    I felt that none of the characters were fully developed. I would have loved to be more clear on Carrie’s romantic history, how many relationships she’d been in, how long they’d lasted, etc., because I just didn’t have a good sense of where she was at with regard to relationships.

    At the beginning she says she’s not lonely, but even though I didn’t buy that, I also wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be an unreliable narrator or if the author was muddled about Carrie’s level of loneliness/neediness. She’d have these crying jags and what was that about if not the feeling of needing a partner? And yet once Stacy came on stage, Carrie’s neediness seemed to vanish. Rather conveniently, I thought.

    Also, prior to the phone sex, I was annoyed with Carrie for her lack of respect for Brian’s rules. He was honest about how much he wanted to give, and she kept trying to get more. It wasn’t so much this that bothered me as the way it was portrayed– as something natural and good. I think if genders were reversed and it was Brian violating Carrie’s boundaries over and over, we wouldn’t view him as such a sweet and generous person, but I think we were intended to view Carrie as one.

    Now let’s take Brian. The man is painted as a saint when what he really is is a martyr. As an attorney, he could afford to place his sister in a good facility years before. I get that he didn’t trust anyone to take as good care of her as he could, but I think it’s distorted thinking to believe that by running himself ragged, depriving himself of a life, etc., he would make a better caretaker than trained professionals who are compensated for their work and have a time for a life outside of it. I can’t decide if this is a sign of ego or low self esteem, but it doesn’t seem healthy to me.

    His relative lack of real anger and resentment are a copout, IMO.

    And why the secrecy around Stacy? Why not just tell Carrie the truth and let her decide for herself how much she wants to take on? This I really didn’t get.

    Also, speaking of copouts it seemed like awfully convenient timing for Stacy to suddenly need more care than Brian could provide. That way the obstacle she presented to Carrie’s long term happiness was removed, but without Brian deciding to put her in the care facility so he could have a life with Carrie.

    I didn’t like that Stacy was presented as more of an obstacle than a person. I’ve come to that it’s rare for me to love romances in which the main obstacle to the relationship is a third party. It is hard to wrap up such a story in a satisfying way or to do justice to that third party character. I did like Broken more than The Story Guy, but I think I what I loved there was the role Joe’s hookup stories played in the novel. There was no counterpart to that here, so to me, The Story Guy was closer to Big Boy than to Broken.

    Rivers has a good voice, though the narration didn’t flow quite as naturally as the dialogue. She can put words together well. But overall, there was something a little too light and sugary for me about this story, given the subject matter.

    On Twitter I said this was a C+ for me, but the more I think about it, the less it works for me, so my grade has slipped to C now, and may slip further by tomorrow. Will read the thread now.

    • willaful says:

      I think Brian has given up on trying to tell people and having it fail.

      I agree with you that his attitude isn’t healthy — I think that’s part of the book, in fact — but I understand it, because the isolation and frustration people face as caregivers makes it very easy to go into unhealthful mental places.

      • My problem with it though was that I didn’t feel I was intended to read Brian’s secrecy as unhealthy. I felt the author was portraying it as noble.

        • willaful says:

          I was actually talking about two separate things there. Though I would say his secrecy is unhealthy as well. I read it as coming from a place of sadness and disappointment rather than nobility.

  35. It could have been clarified better if so. And with his doing so much care giving on his own, I again felt that I was meant to see it as ideal and good. The story (maybe because it was narrated by Carrie) put him on a pedestal.

    Its awfully convenient, too, that he never realizes he took on more than he should have. He never has to choose between Stacy and Carrie, because Stacy’s care becomes more complicated than it was in the past. And so neither he nor Carrie has to be portrayed as selfish.

  36. pamela1740 says:

    Wow. What a stunningly comprehensive and rich conversation around this curious novella. I just finished this morning. It’s the first straight-up contemp rom I’ve read in a really long time — not erotica (though the point is well taken that this edges very close to the line of erotic romance), no paranormal or time travel or other fantasy elements. It clanged a lot of bells for me, though, and I’m still mulling it all over, from the accomplished dialogue to the drudgery of caregiving to the lonely hearts theme.

    It really does straddle that line for me of eliciting a very personal response (mainly to Carrie as a mature heroine — her single-ness and weird combination of self-awareness and self-deception. Also I’ve always had a deeply serious ‘what if’ about whether I should have been a librarian) and engaging my intellectual/analytic impulses to deconstruct and sort out the themes, connections, and inconsistencies. I want to read all the comments here more thoroughly, and some of the other reviews. I had thought I’d try to post about this read, since it’s so unusual for me to be drawn in to a contemporary story, but I don’t know that there is anything I can add to this incredibly rich discussion.

  37. I love the varied opinions here! So many different takes on it. You have all made me go back and rethink, even reread things!

    Like Jessica, I had no problem seeing Carrie as a happy, mature woman who was kinda blindsided by her sudden yearning for a relationship. I thought it was a hole in her life that hadn’t been there before and she didn’t know how to deal with it.

    As far as Brian and Stacy, I didn’t see his caregiving as some selfless, guilt-driven martyrdom. I saw it as having become an almost selfish and self-destructive desire to hold onto all he had left of his family the only way he could. My takeaway was that it was long past time for Stacy to be in a situation that could provide more care. I can’t remember where, but doesn’t he tell Carrie that he’d been investigated to ensure he was providing adequate care? I thought he was drowning and kinda fucking up but unable to let go. All of that made me view Carrie as saving him as much as he was rescuing her. Together they were much more than they were apart.

    The intensifying of the relationship was a bit quick for me at the start but that is often an issue I have with novellas.

    • Robin says:

      As far as Brian and Stacy, I didn’t see his caregiving as some selfless, guilt-driven martyrdom. I saw it as having become an almost selfish and self-destructive desire to hold onto all he had left of his family the only way he could.

      Yes, this is how I saw it, too, especially given the details that were offered about the neglectful mother and the guilt Brian expressed having over his pre-accident relationship and last conversation with Stacy. It made sense to me, his almost fanatic dedication to Stacy, which is one of the reasons I had an issue with the way the novella IMO too easily shifts her to professional care at the end (regardless of how much time and thought we assume Brian has put into this solution, IMO there’s just not enough on page to make me feel like the story was confronting all of the difficulties Carrie and Brian and Stacy were and were going to face).

      In regard to Brian’s not being up front with Carrie (Janine’s point), I had no issue with that, either, because a) he originally wanted that time as an escape, so I saw it as compartmentalization, and b) I definitely think it is realistic to be worried about how a potential romantic interest would regard the time he gives to his sister, even if she theoretically understood and was supportive.

      I don’t know why I didn’t remember this sooner, but Rivers wrote a post I liked a lot on Wonkomance about approaching the writing of a book using “classical appeals”: http://wonkomance.com/2013/03/12/its-all-greek-to-me-argue-for-your-wonk-with-classical-appeals/. I guess I’d have to say that TSG was not convincing for me in either logos or ethos.

      • What I mean is, yes, Brian may have been all the things you say, but Carrie didn’t see it that way. She saw him as an amazingly generous, sweet man with regard to his sister. And since we only saw Brian through Carrie’s eyes, it was hard for me to tell if the author intended us to leave him on her pedestal, or take him off of it.

        As for the secrecy, I understood the compartmentalizing aspect at first, but after a while it started seeming like a contrivance to keep readers in suspense. And for Carrie to only find out by accident was dragging it out too long.

        At one point Brian tells Carrie that if he were to reveal his secret to her he would burden her, and she would take it all on, and he didn’t want that for her. Unless he was lying about that, it could not have been a simple matter of his believing that she would dump him because his circumstances were too burdensome.

        I took him at his word when he said that, which is why I felt he was not treating Carrie like a grown up who could make her own decisions.

  38. JenniferH says:

    I read the novella after reading all the positive reviews. After reading it, I felt a little uncomfortable, but couldn’t quite put my finger on why. This discussion helped clarify my reaction, so thanks for all your comments.

  39. Pingback: Sex and the Single Girl: The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers | Badass Romance

  40. Ridley says:

    I finally read it, and this canary is dead.

    Did anyone feel like Brian had a personality? One other than “selflessly dedicated his life to taking care of his sister?” Cuz all I saw was a bunch of hurt/comfort woobie woo woo.

    Also, QFT to this shizz:

    I guess it’s this: in a lot of ways, the STORY is Brian’s journey (I mean, even the title suggests that). But the NARRATIVE is Carrie’s. That just felt . . . off to me. Like she owned his story and his experiences. Carrie talks that way sometimes. Discomfiting for me, and I’m not sure it was meant to be.

    I hated that there was no exploration of why he felt he had to care for his sister by himself. Did he consider LTC before? Was this decision something he struggled with off and on?

    Ugh. Lots of feels. I’m not going to enjoy reviewing it.

  41. helenajust says:

    What amazes me is that no-one mentioned that it is written in the present tense (until well into the comments). For me this was a killer; I was dismayed when I realised, unfortunately only after buying it, and still tried to read it. But I just can’t. Even if, as seems to be the case, very few people mind or care about the present tense I’m surprised it isn’t mentioned given that it is very unusual. I just find it so contrived that it keeps me out of the story and it’s all I notice.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I think present tense narration is becoming much more common, at least in certain (sub)genres–Young Adult, New Adult, erotica/erotic romance–where emotional immediacy is emphasized. And I can see the logic of that. Like you, though, I am not a fan, because emotional intensity/immediacy is not what I value most when reading, and I find present-tense narration sacrifices so many other things narration can do and is so much less flexible; it’s not a trade-off I find worth it.

      I thought Rivers handled it very smoothly (I don’t think I even noticed the tense at first), but I also thought it was a problematic choice given some of the subject matter, which to my mind required less feeling/internal focus from the protagonist and more reflection.

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