Make it Stay by Joan Frank

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Make It Stay
I remember Neil made a show of checking his watch that day; then, facing me as if I were a point-blank gun barrel, shouted his invitation to lunch. The whole staff turned to stare. He must've thought I couldn't hear with my earphones in. Poor fellow blushed so hard I thought his head might pop off.

Neil and Rachel (aka Rae) met and got married when Rae was in her forties - much later than is considered the "normal" age for first marriages. Rae is a writer, an introvert who preferred to stay home in her PJs than meet people. Neil was more outgoing, loved cooking and hosted dinners often for their friends and acquaintances. Into this marriage, Neil brings the baggage of his long friendship with Mike, the owner of an aquarium business in downtown, and the complicated relationship between Mike and his wife, Tilda. At the moment however, something terrible had already happened, involving Mike and Tilda - something hinted at a lot, while Neil preps dinner for a gathering they were going to host soon.

I was pulled into this book mainly because of its blurb, which mentioned something of a dinner involving friends, and built a lot of anticipation over that dinner. The blurb also indicated "a mysterious catastrophe" that "propels all five individuals into uncharted realities". While that's somewhat true, the blurb in itself is heavily misleading - because the dinner in question is really nothing more than a prop for Neil to narrate a story. The crux of the plot happens before and after the dinner. I also didn't find the fifth person (Mike/Tilda's daughter Addie) to be very important to the plot. I don't typically read blurbs, except when checking out review books (so that I can gauge my interest) and the summary that I read of this book felt erroneous to me.

Joan Frank
That said, in this one case, I was lucky that the book in itself was very engaging. Although Make it Stay is very short - just 164 pages - it packs a wallop right from the moment Neil and Rae settle down to prepare dinner for friends, until the end, when the fortunes of the characters are presented. Rae urges Neil to tell her the whole story of Mike and Tilda, and through Neil's eyes, we begin to see this dynamic couple that appeared more mismatched than made in heaven.

Mike and Tilda were heavily flawed characters, and that made them all the more believable. Mike had a very Santa Claus'-ish personality - very helpful, a huge HA! that either cracked everyone up or scared them out of their wits. He loved fishes and had an impressive collection of aquatic life swimming away in the aquariums in his shop. He was however a womanizer - a fact that Tilda suspected for very long. Tilda, on the other hand, oozed an air of indifference at all times. She was on booze and cigarettes most of the time, and reeking of bad breath as well. One night, someone commits a horrendous act that forever damages Mike - an act that Rae suspects Tilda to be guilty of, but there are no proofs. This tragedy has several long-lasting repercussions on Mike, Tilda, Neil and Rae, and while it is the turning point of the book, I wouldn't be quick to say that it was the pivotal event.

I enjoyed this book far more than I was expecting to. The underlying theme was that of friendship and how it is affected post-marriage. To any marriage, both members bring in their own friendships - some survive, some don't. Both members wish that their other half will love their friends as much as they do. Neil was always under the impression that Rae didn't care for Mike, who happens to be one of the most important people in Neil's life. Rae defends herself by saying that she prefers books to people. Rae happens to be the narrator, and in most books, the narrator is who I identify with. However, in this case, I really disliked Rae (in fact, more than Mike and Tilda). I found Rae too prejudiced and slightly racist. She was quick to bundle up people into their cultural identities, even going so far as to decorate Tilda as bisexual simply because Tilda preferred to dress in men's clothes, and calling Mike a 200-pound infant for reasons I don't want to mention here, but which I found incredibly bad in taste.

Although the (faulty) synopsis cites the phrase 'love stories', I would rather say that this book is more about a beautiful friendship that defined many of the characters in the book. I did find myself wishing that we got more of Rae's story. I found it hard to believe that only Mike/Tilda were the primary people in their lives - surely Rae had people important to her too? But the character development in this book is truly fascinating and well-done. Except for Addie, none of the characters appeared flat to me.

Although this is a small book, I took a long time getting through the first half. The writing was a lot more involved than I expected, but it was still very beautiful. I got the impression that Joan Frank didn't carelessly wield words to form the book, but rather carefully stitched them together to produce this beautiful story. I also loved the themes explored in this book - the role of friendship and marriage, the question of whether to like or hate a person who is guilty of immoral acts but is the most wonderful person otherwise. As Neil says,
When you've known someone that long, after a point it can't matter anymore how crazy they are.

I received this book for free for review from the publisher via TLC Book Tours.


17 comments:

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

Don't you hate misleading blurbs, titles, and covers? I'm glad the book redeemed itself!

Helen Murdoch said...

This sounds like a good one. I enjoy it when a story slowly unfolds and presents itself with flashbacks

Tina Reed said...

The first part of this reminded me of Strangers at the Feast. A wonderful read, btw. If you have not read it, do so right around Thanksgiving as it takes place over the Thanksgiving meal. I reviewed it here if you want to take a look:


http://bookchatter.net/2010/08/16/review-strangers-at-the-feast/

Athira / Aths said...

I'm glad too about that. It was quite disappointing to see that the the two just didn't match.

Athira / Aths said...

I love that too! It is quite fascinating when your whole opinion of a person changes by the time you are done with the book, adding more weight to the saying that you shouldn't be too quick to judge someone or something.

Athira / Aths said...

I had Strangers at the Feast on my wishlist once - I had quite forgotten about it. I'm glad to hear that the two books sound similar. I will definitely check it out.

Amritorupa Kanjilal said...

Hello Athira, I enjoyed your review enormously, you made the book very intriguing for me. Secrets, nastiness, and relationship troubles make a great book :)
First time on your blog, and I loved it very much. Your style of reviewing both convinces and fascinates me.
Following you now!
please do visit me at my book blog at http://riversihaveknown.com/
and if you like it, please do follow!

zibilee said...

What an intriguing review for a book that I now need to own! I love that there is love right beside dastardly deception and strong likable characters mixed with horrendous evildoers. I think your review today was probably one of the strongest and most powerful that I have seen in a long time, and I really enjoyed reading it. Amazing review today Aths.

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks so much for following! I enjoyed browsing through your blog as well.

Athira / Aths said...

Thank you so much, Heather! I was still thinking of this book after reading it and couldn't wait to review it.

Amritorupa Kanjilal said...

Thank you so much for your visit Athira, Please do follow so that I can have your feedback whenever I post!
http://riversihaveknown.com/

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

I love your comment about the author carefully stitching words together - I think I'd really enjoy her writing style!


Thanks for being a part of the tour.

Veens said...

Athira, I think this book would be a perfect book for me. Thanks for pointing out that the blurb is misleading... but I am glad this book is good because I liked that blurb too :)

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks for having me on the tour! I hope you will also get a chance to read this book.

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you get to read it. I was glad that the book was pretty good despite the misleading blurb.

Wendy said...

You made some great points in your review of this one - I found this to be a very interesting, complex novel (really more of a novella on some levels). I agree, Addie's character was the least developed...I'm not really even sure she needed to make an appearance!

Athira / Aths said...

Usually one or two poorly developed characters turn me off, but I'm glad that this book was still praise-worthy and enjoyable.