First of all, a disclaimer. I’m a big Stein fan, so yes, a little wee may have escaped me at the prospect of reading an advance copy and my review is a bit of a love song. But there’s so much here for first-time readers of Stein to love. Allow me to make my case.
Exhibit A: The Language
She knew immediately who the body on her living room floor belonged to. She’d seen him on the news a few weeks ago, falling out of a limousine with several girls wrapped around his shoulders. At the time she’d thought, It’s like he’s wearing a necklace made out of ladies, before changing the channel.
How do you like that for an opening hook? And the similie of a necklace of ladies? Don’t think that that’s going to be the only awesome description in this book, though, because this puppy is full of them:
His leather jacket looked like an oil slick painted across his broad back. The stubble on that near-pretty face was too coarse, as though someone had painted it with iron filings. And she could see the tattoo on the back of his neck. The one she hadn’t thought she knew so well. The one that made her think of a big, dark maze.
My apologies if you just got a lady boner from reading that.
Exhibit B: The Hero
The hero's name is Holden Stark. Immediately I’m picturing an older version of the hero of Catcher in the Rye, all grown up and nastified in the sexiest way imaginable. Hot stuff for a book geek like myself.
I have to admit, I was expecting some in-love-with-himself superstar stud hero, mainly because that’s what I expect of Hollywood actors and celebs, but Holden was (thankfully) none of that. Instead he was a funny but wounded creature, looking (like the heroine) for escape and acceptance. But the best thing about him is the way he changes the way the heroine sees herself (with a little help from Morten Harket).
Exhibit C: The Heroine
I like that Stein’s heroines are so often ‘ordinary’ people. By ordinary, I mean that the heroine isn't a rock star or princess or beauty queen, but the same sort of humble schmo schlepping through life that I am. She’s nobody, just like me, her day-to-day is not particularly amazing and I liked that immediately.
She was used to everything running the same way on each particular day, and this was not the same way.
But ‘ordinary’ doesn’t mean boring. Stein captures, through subterranean deep point of view, the unique thoughts that make each of us — even if we’re not sexy crime fighters or some other type of luminary — deeply interesting. Every sweetly appalling and unacceptable thought (which are the most interesting kind, really) that slithers through the atypical heroine’s mind is served up for the reader’s inspection. I enjoy that.
I also desperately liked Alice. Shy, brave, traumatised, damaged, super-lonely, timid Alice with her huge secrets and personal festival of weird. Because isn’t everyone a little weird, once you get to know them well? And weirdness is just so darn endearing.
Exhibit D: The Plot
Loved the set up. Hollywood actor, Captain Amazing, takes a bunch of pills and crashes on Lucy’s rug to die. She doesn’t want to take Captain Amazing to ER, because:
Everyone would know he was different then. He wouldn’t be Holden Stark anymore. He would be some other depressed guy who chugged a bottle of pills and maybe tried to drown himself in the ocean. How could he carry on being Captain Amazing once everyone saw him the way she currently was? No, no, she couldn’t do that to him. She couldn’t be responsible for decimating his career and his image.
So Lucy revives him by dragging him into her shower, only to discover he’s devastated at having failed to kill himself, and that she has to keep him awake for several more hours through conversation. And what a conversation it turns out to be. I love the way the surprising, surreal and inappropriate tumbles out of the characters’ minds and mouths, the constant internal struggles and shocks. There’s no snooze time in this book or pages to skip, especially not with all the sweet intertextuality and the messing with tropes and conventions going on (bound to please those naughty subversive romance readers out there).
Captain Amazing stays longer and longer, partly due the hero and heroine’s shared fear that returning to the void of his old life will kill him. During his stay, things slowly get revealed, and the whole story is a slow unpeeling of the characters, which perfectly mirrors the scene when the heroine cuts Captain Amazing out of his seawater shrunken leather jacket, uncertain what creature will emerge from the discarded shell. (Who doesn’t love that sort of metaphorical shit?)
A brief warning: linear-minded, plot-focused readers probably won’t get this book. But if you like claw-your-insides emotion, gloriously irrational deep character point of view, and unforgettably unique language, you’ll hoover this book up in one sitting and love it. Plus, and I hate to admit this because I like to think my heart is pure lonsdaleite wrapped in titanium, my eyes leaked at the end of the book because of all the feels.
Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention, the sex is so hot your lady parts will combust.
So put on your asbestos panties, lie back, and enjoy all the sexy times and feels.