Different in a Good Way - The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers
Often, when a new book or author receives piles of advance praise, I find myself leery of marketing hype. I’ve just been burned too many times, so I proceed with caution these days. However, my interest in Mary Ann Rivers’ debut novella, The Story Guy, was piqued after a rave review from one of my favorite book pushers, Angie of Angieville fame.
A quick 120 pages later, and I can say, y’all, Mary Ann Rivers is an author to watch.
The Story Guy’s main character is Carrie, a midwestern librarian who lives a good life. She has a career she loves, parents with whom she’s close and friends she adores. Despite all this warmth, however, Carrie’s life is also lonely, as everyone around her has a partner and a rich home life.
One of Carrie's favorite distractions is reading the personal ads on a City Paper-type website. (Who hasn't done that, am I right?) These ads are usually pretty sketchy and Carrie finds them refreshingly authentic--these people aren’t playing games, they’re saying exactly what they want out of a relationship. One morning she comes across an intriguing request for a standing Wednesday rendezvous in a public park for “kissing only” and impulsively answers it before she can stop herself.
The following Wednesday, Carrie meets this stranger, Brian, and it sets in motion a radical change in both their lives.
Most reviewers have focused on The Story Guy’s emotional, moving story of love and sacrifice, and rightly so.
Relationships are hard, and Mary Ann Rivers layers this story with real conflict and consequences, which makes the payoff of Carrie and Brian’s happy-ever-after all the more gratifying. Brian has legitimate reasons for feeling disempowered in pursuing his own happiness, and their journey toward making it work is a compelling.
I was, however, a bit disappointed by the way the big reveal of Brian’s secret was handled. In keeping with the popularity of big moments in fiction, this happens in a dramatic way at Carrie’s work. Another person is involved in this reveal, and it feels a bit emotionally manipulative (it’s a personally sensitive issue for me). I found myself wondering if the revelatory moment would have been just as impactful if it had been a quiet conversation between Carrie and Brian.
Despite my reservations about that particular scene, The Story Guy is truly a well-crafted novella--it really reads as a full story, complete with ups and downs and a range of emotions.
Interestingly, the thing that lingered with me from The Story Guy is that Mary Ann Rivers has crafted a story that truly allows Carrie to be the heroine of her own life. I know many romance readers love the swoon-worthy men in romance novels, but the stories that stick with me are those of the heroine’s journey. (Author Stephanie Doyle wrote a great post on this subject for Romance Around the Corner’s awesome Heroine Week.)
In The Story Guy, this focus is immensely assisted by Rivers’ choice to write Carrie and Brian’s story from Carrie’s first person point-of-view. While third person is the norm in romance, as authors dip into both main characters’ heads, I find that when well-done, first person is a richer reading experience for me.
This probably has a whole lot to do with voice--as podcast guest Suzie so aptly pointed out a couple of weeks ago--which often comes across more clearly in first-person versus third person, and that’s definitely true in the case of The Story Guy. For me, Carrie’s mature (and I don’t mean that as a euphemism for “old,” I mean “grown up”), stable and occasionally funny voice was so well developed that I felt that I knew exactly where she was coming from. There’s a loneliness about her that even she doesn’t seem aware of it but it comes through in the first person narration in a way that’s quite unusual.
Additionally, if this story had been told in the traditional third person point-of-view, and readers knew Brian's story from the beginning, it likely would have been a darker book than it needed to be. His story through Carrie's lens was more balanced, for lack of a better word, than if it had been told from his perspective as well. I was chatting with author Molly O'Keefe on Twitter about The Story Guy and she said it very well, that it would have been a much darker story from Brian's perspective, and I think that's very true.
I’d love for more romance writers and publishers to embrace first-person narration such as in The Story Guy.
(Disclaimer: I realize it’s popular in erotica, but that’s not my thing). This strong female perspective simply works for the sort of reader I am. That’s not to say that it can’t happen with third-person perspective--Molly O’Keefe, for example, creates knock-out female perspectives within the confines of third-person romance narrative as does Sarah Rees Brennan on the YA side. It’s just that with the first person, the experience is different and for a story with a plot hinging mostly on a character’s emotional journey, I enjoy first person more.
I mentioned at the beginning of this sort-of review that Mary Ann Rivers is an author to watch, and judging from her distinctive style in The Story Guy she’s got a lot to offer readers. I know I had some niggles with one of the plot points, but that shouldn’t deter you from checking out this unusual little novella (especially at the very appealing $1 price point).
The Story Guy is available in ebook form only.
P.S. Can we talk about how much I hate Loveswept's covers? They are uniformly tacky, from the always-naked stock imagery to the MS Paint-style type treatment. Blech.
Disclosure: Received for review from the publisher.