Publisher: The Permanent Press
Release Date: April 28, 2012
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Book Summary: In the tree-nestled Northern California town of Mira Flores, writer Rachel (“an aging typist with an unprofitable hobby” and her Scottish husband Neil prepare dinner for a familiar “crew” of guests – among them Neil’s best friend, the burly, handsome Mike Spender, an irrepressible hedonist – and Mike’s wife, the troubling Tilda Krall, a hard-bitten figure who carries her dark unknowability like an accusation.
Mike and Tilda have produced an enchanting daughter, Addie – who will also appear, unexpectedly, that night. As they ready the meal, Rae begs Neil to retell her the strange, twisted story of the Spenders – to include Mike’s secret life, and what happened once Tilda learned of it. Neil and Rae cannot guess how the shock waves from that story will threaten to destroy their own marriage – after a mysterious catastrophe propels all five individuals into uncharted realities.
Recounting three love stories, Make It Stay explores the vision of an era – and how perception expands, as mortal limits draw near.
My Thoughts: Neil and Rachel (“Rae“) are older when they marry. Rae was sure she wasn’t going to marry by the time she met Neil. She’d dated many men of varied backgrounds and personalities and none had stuck. Then Neil came along, telling Rae in his Scottish brogue that, unlike his friend Mike Spender, who’s been “known to get around” Neil’s a “cooples mahn”. Mike Spender is part of the baggage Neil brings to their marriage. He’s been Neil’s best friend since shortly after Neil emigrated to America, having taken Neil under his wing. Rae doesn’t fully grasp the depths of Neil’s connection to Mike for years. It takes tragedy and the loss of Mike for Rae to grasp what Mike’s friendship meant to her husband. This is partially due to Rae’s intense dislike of “most forms of social life”, something she keeps a secret from Neil.
Rae is the first-person narrator of Make It Stay, structured in an intriguing style by Joan Frank. In Part I of four, Rae entices Neil to tell her about his friendship with Mike from the day they met and Mike's marriage to the hard Tilda. Rae, in turn, tells us this story, interspersing bits of her own story with Neil and filling in gaps with explanations and her personal opinions. This structure and style made me feel as if I was having a personal, intimate conversation with Rae about her life. As she relays their stories, Rae figures out some significant issues in her relationship with Neil and has an epiphany or two involving Mike and Tilda. Sadly, Rae's revelations may have come too late to make any significant difference.
The Northern California town of Mira Flores plays a significant role in Neil and Mike’s friendship. It’s a small and friendly place in the early ‘70’s when Neil and Mike work a few blocks apart. It’s the kind of town where everybody knows everybody and doors remain unlocked. Mike, a gentle giant with a booming laugh, acts like the unofficial mayor of Mira Flores, greeting anyone who walks by his fish store. Neil is thin, short and quiet, happy to bask in Mike’s energy. Neil, intelligent and focused, eventually becomes a lawyer, while Mike is simple and reckless. In many ways, Neil and Mike complement each other. Rae perceives Mike as dumb and goofy when they meet. She also wonders if he’s cruel and somewhat cunning because Tilda, who he marries, is unfriendly, crass and shady. It’s difficult to understand their relationship, although it seems Rae‘s dislike of Tilda and lack of respect for Mike colors who they really are. Rae has a tendency to criticize everyone she meets, a trait Neil tolerates for a time. I didn’t like Tilda at all but my opinion of Rae and the men changed several times throughout the story.
The brevity of the narrative precludes in-depth life stories and three-dimensional portraits of Rae, Neil, Mike and Tilda. But Make It Stay doesn't suffer for it. Instead, by delving into Neil’s past, relaying his tight friendship with Mike and weaving in Rae and Tilda lives, Ms. Frank reveals characteristics of these four people along with insights into their personalities, specific to their relationships, that are quite revealing and very telling. She, thereby, enables readers to understand and connect with Rae, as well as with Neil and Mike. When I realized Rae's descriptions included her personal opinion of Mike and Tilda, this gave me more insight into Rae, as well as Mike and Tilda. Rae’s attempts to understand Neil and Mike’s friendship as well as who they are individually provides a more complete picture of Mike, making him feel more human and relatable. Close to the end of the book I realized, as I thought about the characters and Ms. Frank’s captivating story, how well I understood the bond between Neil and Mike and how each one made the other whole. In understanding what they meant to each other, I was better able to comprehend Neil’s irritation with Rae. The pieces of the different stories in Make It Stay fell into place for me by the end, creating a clear, complete narrative about friendship and marriage and how the two often intertwine.
Make It Stay is a fascinating and beautiful story. It portrays, through the lives of four very different characters, the complex relationship between friendship and marriage, how each union impacts the people involved in various ways, how the friendships spouses bring into the marriage become intertwined with it and how the destruction of one union or relationship may very well destroy the other. Ms. Frank displays a keen understanding of people’s thoughts and behaviors throughout the book and a deep understanding of the necessity for compassion, compromise and communication in any relationship.
For more reviews see the TLC Book Tours page for Make It Stay
I highly recommend Make It Stay and also recommend you read it in one sitting, if possible. Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Make It Stay and to The Permanent Press for an ARC copy of the book.