Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: Make It Stay by Joan Frank

Sometimes I think that having or making "couple" friends is one of the hardest things about marriage. Usually one person doesn't like one of the other pair for whatever reason. And when spouses are very different as in the old adage "opposites attract," they can have an even harder go at appreciating each others' friends. Friendship is one of those unexplainable, alchemical bits of magic and four people makes the balance tricky.

Although Neil and Rae have been married for years when Joan Frank's novel Make It Stay opens, they married late and Neil already had a long-standing, tightly woven friendship with Mike and a rather easy cameraderie with Mike's wife Tilda despite her apparent darkness and unlikability when he and Rae married. As they prepare for a dinner party, Rae cautiously teases the complicated back-story of Mike and Tilda out of Neil. And so the reader is given both a view of the past Mike as he was when Neil met him, boisterous and effusive, ebullent and outgoing, and of the present day Mike who has been felled by a stroke, retaining only his booming laugh and his pleasure in his dearest friendships.

Neil's story tells of the seemingly mismatched Mike and Tilda's relationship and long marriage and it is merged seamlessly with the small judgments that Rae makes on these two oldest of Neil's friends. As Neil muses on the past and Rae delicately manipulates the present, more is revealed of these two characters in their reactions to Mike and Tilda than might initially be thought. Rae is an introvert, a writer, and slow to warm up to others. Neil is a fiercely loyal friend happiest when he is surrounded by those he loves, quietly similar to Mike in that way. The tale of Mike and Tilda brings to light cracks in Neil and Rae's marriage, highlighting the ways in which their differences have sent them down parallel but diverging paths. As they examine the meanings and perspective of love, friendship and loss, their own relationship is very much in jeopardy.

This is a very slight book but it packs quite a wallop. Frank's writing is to be savoured, each word carefully chosen and considered. Her descriptions are not overdone but are incredibly vivid and alive. The novel is definitely character driven rather than plot-heavy, musing on the ephemerality of life, the strength of connection we feel to others, the power of the bonds of deep and true friendship, and the inexactitude of judgment. Neil, Rae, and Mike are all complex and fleshed out characters. Tilda is less so but one of her chief traits is her sullen unknowability, making this omission understandable even if it consigns her to being disliked by Rae and having that dislike be telegraphed to and shared by the reader. The sense of life being so fleeting and in so many ways futile pervades the story with a melancholy air. No one, no matter how much they might desire it, can ultimately "make it stay."

For more information about Joan Frank and the book visit her website. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. Finding "couple" friends IS really difficult - we have only two couples that my husband and I both enjoy hanging out with, and we've had 14 years of married life to look.

    I'm glad you enjoyed this one. Thanks for being a part of the tour!


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