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REVIEW: The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

Dear Ms. Rivers:

I’d had your novella, The Story Guy, in my TBR for a while.  Then, last month, on Twitter, I saw a link to a post you’d written for Wonkomance, the site you and several other authors I respect run. The post, entitled Love Actually, a meditation on the nature of love that starts with an exploration of First Corinthians, knocked me off my feet. It’s glorious, eloquently sad, and wrenchingly real. I then began to read The Story Guy which turned out also to be glorious, eloquently sad, and wrenchingly real. It broke my heart, knitted up the aching pieces, and left me murmuring yes, yes, the greatest of these is love.

The narrator of The Story Guy is Carrie West, a librarian “staring into the second half” of her third decade. Carrie’s content with her life with one exception.

I like my job. I like that I have small niches of friends, of three different generations, that all do different kinds of things in our artsy rust-belt city.

I like that I am an only child and can have my parents’ attention to myself when I need it. I like my noisy apartment that I’ve rented for more then ten years. I could get serious about dating, but dating is something I don’t like unless I already know I like the person, have already cultivated at least a tiny bit of a crush out in the wild, away from the pain of a first coffee date.

When it comes to sex, I admit to feeling empty.

One night, as Carrie is perusing the MetroLink page for her city, she clicks, as she often does, the link for Men Seeking Women. She does this not because she’s looking for love but rather because she loves the voices there.

It’s what I imagine men might really be thinking and never say. They yell and cry and woo and break themselves open before their post slips off the page.

Suddenly, she sees an entry with the single word Wednesdays in the heading. Curious, she clicks on it and sees a picture of a man, dark-haired and handsome, grinning at someone not in the frame. Carrie reads his ad.

I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only. I won’t touch you below the shoulders. You can touch me anywhere. No dating, no hookups. I will meet with you for as long as you meet me, so if you miss a Wednesday we part as strangers. No picture necessary, we can settle details via IM. Reply back with “Wednesdays Only” in the subject line.

The STory Guy by Mary Ann RiversCarrie, after thinking about it for a nano-second, emails the guy, tells him she’s “intrigued,” and sends him her IM handle. He responds–his name is Brian–and, after chatting, the two agree to meet the next day, Wednesday, at the teahouse shelters in the Park.

They talk, share a few details about their lives and then, they kiss. And kiss. And kiss.

For both of them, the kiss is intense, jarring, maybe the best kiss of their lives. When they break apart, as the end of the hour nears, Carrie starts to suggest meeting sooner than next Wednesday but Brian makes it clear he doesn’t want that. This baffles Carrie and by Saturday night, alone in her apartment, obsessing over Brian, she’s desperate to talk to someone about mystery that is Brian. She calls up her intern Justin–I love Justin–who agrees to meet her at Cluck You Chicken, a Jamaican dive around the corner from Carrie’s apartment.

Justin is witty and wise and listens to Carrie’s tale. When she asks him for advice, he tells her to break the rules Brian has set and to IM him. When Carrie asks why, Justin says,

(I) just bet something interesting will happen if you try to talk to him without the whole date thing. Sure, maybe he is just a normal-seeming guy with a weird sex thing and it’s all bad news, and I recommend staying kind of disengaged until you find out, but he may be a story guy.”

“A story guy?”

“Yeah, a good guy with a bad story doing something stupid.”

“Explain to me why a story guy is better than a pervert.”

“Story guys are like life highlighters. Your life is all these big blocks of gray text, and then a story guy comes in with a big ol’ paragraph of neon pink so that when you flip back through your life, you can stop and remember all the important and interesting places.”

Carrie gets home, takes Justin’s advice and soon Brian responds. They IM into the night, carefully talking about and yet around why Brian limits himself to one hour, once a week, of kissing.

Brian is a story guy. Or, as Justin says, later in the novella, he’s “a Russian novel.” The reasons behind Brian’s rules are calamitous, inestimable, and relentlessly demanding. And so damn sad, it’s exquisitely unbearable.

As Carrie falls for Brian the limitations of his life become slowly clear to her. She realizes there’s no easy way to love Brian, that the life he lives outside of that one hour he gives himself a week is a life with challenging complications and etched with sorrow. Yet, as she determinedly inches her way into the margins of Brian’s life, she sees the person she could be, the kind of love she can offer Brian.

If I wanted, I could choose to make my life a place that Brian could step into. He didn’t have any room to move, but he still found that hour, once a week. I can choose to give that hour to him and make it the most expansive time in the universe. I could. If he wanted me to.

I have a life to live.

The Story Guy is a love story. But it’s also a life story, a story about how we do and don’t define our lives. It effortlessly illuminates the gifts of love, of time, of grace, of sacrifice that surround us and that we rarely savor. Each chapter takes place in an hour or less. Every hour, whether crowded with longing, sadness, comfort, and/or joy, is an hour Brian and Carrie must live in, learning as they love to demand more from time, to make each hour as replete as possible. Brian’s circumscribed vision of his possibilities begins the story; Carrie’s expansive vision remakes it.

The truth of The Story Guy isn’t that we should live like we are dying, but that we should live, consciously aware of the choices we have, embracing the decisions we make, and owning the paths we chart.

It’s an amazing work, made more astonishing that it’s Ms. River’s debut. Her prose is implacably assured; her pacing, irreproachable. The Story Guy gets an A. Read it.

I’ll leave you with the lovely last line of the novel.

It’s Wednesday, though, and the time in front of us is immeasurable, the hours crowded past every capacity.

Dabney

 

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I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.

31 Comments

  1. Kaetrin
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 08:18:21

    Yes yes yes. It is WONDERFUL. I completely agree with you.

  2. AJH
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 08:26:01

    Beautiful review, Dabney, of a beautiful book.

  3. Kati
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 08:30:27

    I just got this one. Dabney, you always make me break my “No Novellas” rule, and do it with such style.

    I want to review like you when I grow up. :) Thank you for a beautifully written review of a book I’m not very much looking forward to reading.

  4. Dabney
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 08:38:56

    @AJH: Thanks. It’s hard to do justice to writing like that in The Story Guy.

    @Kati: Oh, thanks. You’ll love it though. It’s the kinda of sad that somehow engenders deep joy.

  5. Molly O'Keefe
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 09:12:17

    I was really amazed at how the novella managed to be both very sad and very funny and very real and very sexy. In such a short word count it’s easy for the story to get overwhelmed by just one of those aspects – but this little gem kept everything very balanced. Perhaps it’s the magic of the first person narration – but I agree with everyone else saying pick this one up.

  6. leslie
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 09:23:15

    I just pre ordered The Story Guy. Thanks Dabney, you always write well, but this review was really beautiful.

  7. hapax
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 09:37:19

    @Dabney: I am very intrigued by this review, and I checked out the “love actually” post and was enthralled.

    Alas, I have a personal DO NOT GO THERE with infidelity plots. I don’t think I could take it if Brian’s “story” is that he is already married.

    I realize that I am probably asking about a huge honking spoiler, but is there any way you can tell me if this will be safe for me to pick up?

  8. Patricia Eimer
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 09:55:27

    Ok I’m intrigued and I need something to read

  9. Dabney
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 10:46:12

    @leslie: Thanks. @hapax: Don’t worry. No infidelity. Not even close. You’re safe!

  10. Estara Swanberg
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 11:56:50

    People are so totally inspired to lyrical reviews by this book, I hope the expectations don’t build too high in me, heh. I added it to my TBB pile in Goodreads due to Angie (Angieville) and her review and then AJH enthusiastically convinced me to change that to buying and adding to my TBR pile. And now there’s your review, too.

    The preorder-price on Kobo was just €1 – there really is no risk in trying this story.

  11. Janine
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 12:29:20

    Sold! I just pre-ordered.

  12. Cecilia Grant
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 14:36:22

    Lovely, perceptive review. I adored this book too.

    Awhile ago I wrote a post on Anna Cowan’s blog about romance as a defiant answer to the bleakness and difficulty of life, and in the comments, someone (I’ve been assuming it was the author Tamara Allen, but now I see it’s just “Tamara,” with no surname attached) said:

    “I don’t look to romance to transport me away from real life. I would rather it just continue to remind me gently that all things are bearable with a pair of arms around you.”

    That’s what The Story Guy boiled down to for me, better than any romance in recent memory. It showed how romantic love can be our sustaining consolation, while also acknowledging the limits of what romantic love can do. It felt poignant and so honest.

  13. Ducky
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 14:40:17

    What a lovely review! I want to read this but all this talk about how sad it is has me afraid to. I can take angst but only with a happy ending. Does this have a romance HEA?

  14. Dabney
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 16:25:41

    @Ducky: It does although it’s more subtle than most.

  15. Ridley
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 17:52:09

    I plan to read this one, but what I’ve read about the hero’s story leaves me wary. If anyone else wrote it, I think I’d pass on it, but Rivers strikes me as someone thoughtful and conscientious, so I’ll lend her some credit and try it.

  16. Laura Florand
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 18:15:21

    Just finished this. It is AMAZING. Highly, highly recommend.

  17. sarah mayberry
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 18:48:11

    Sold. I have severe writer envy just from reading the excerpts you’ve included. I anticipate glorious chest ache-age as I read. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  18. Robin/Janet
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 21:57:19

    I won’t spoil the hero’s secret here (can we do spoiler tags in the comments?), and I definitely plan to read the book, but boy does the set up remind me of another book (a Harelquin) published about five years ago. I wonder if anyone else had the same thought.

  19. MikiS
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 02:32:09

    @hapax:

    Thanks for asking this question. I was having the same thought.

  20. Zoe York
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 13:27:27

    I had the same reaction to Ms. Rivers’ Wonkomance post on love. I’m going to read this on a Sunday afternoon when my family is gone and I can sink into the words without interruption.

  21. Dabney
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 15:28:36

    @Zoe York: Enjoy! It’s worth re-reading so perhaps I’ll do the same.

  22. Julia Broadbooks
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 20:07:59

    @sarah mayberry: You will not be disappointed. It’s worth reading for the strength of her prose alone.

    @Ridley: I think I now the sort of thing you worry about in book dealing with these issues. For me, Rivers was so true and delicate in her handling of these issues that I had none of the problems I might expect. It’s loving and honest and heartbreaking and joyous.

  23. SonomaLass
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 02:01:33

    I have heard so many good things about this novella that I just went to buy it, only to find that I pre-ordered it in February. So, yay for me?

  24. Ridley
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 18:37:35

    @Julia Broadbooks: I’m buying it only because I know Rivers from the twitters, and thoughtlessness doesn’t strike me as her thing.

  25. Elizabeth Williams
    Jul 08, 2013 @ 16:19:55

    Wow fantastic review I am about to break my no novella rule also.

  26. Krista
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 22:06:43

    Thank you so much for this recommendation. Don’t typically read novellas and am a bit sad to think that I almost missed this beautiful story. A highly recommended read.

  27. DA Recommends for July 2013
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 10:02:30

    [...] Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers ( A | BN | K | S | G ), reviewed by Dabney and Jayne and recommended by them, and [...]

  28. Jessica
    Jul 11, 2013 @ 13:25:12

    I have a strict NO novella rule. If you do, break it for this. I just bought and read this after reading this post. This is the most romantic, perfect thing I’ve read in forever.

  29. Quick Review – The Story Guy – Mary Ann Rivers | Pennermag.com
    Jul 11, 2013 @ 13:27:24

    [...] I hadn’t seen this recommended on DA, I would never have read this. Nothing about the description would have ever caught me. Librarian, [...]

  30. Zara
    Jul 23, 2013 @ 18:52:38

    This novella was a gem. Lovely use of language to convey longing and attraction, and yes, a very subtle HEA.

  31. The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers | Love in the Margins
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 15:12:31

    [...] follow the author on Twitter and had high hopes for this book. It got great press with not one, but two glowing reviews at Dear Author. Everyone in my circle of reader friends was reading it, and after [...]

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