Stay with Me -- Garret Freymann-Weyr
Garret Freymann-Weyr is on the same list as Ellen Wittlinger: If I see her name on a book, I will pick it up. Period. Her books are always different, I never know exactly what to expect, other than overall excellence. After reading three of her four books, I do expect them to be extremely thoughtful and probably somewhat achy.
I couldn't help loving Leila Abranel from the beginning (for obvious reasons):
And Clare told me that her mother had remarked that my name, Leila (from the Persian meaning "dark as night"), was pretentious but serviceable.
And the only thing I had ever had to say about my name was the rather lame I am not a rock song to people who called me Lay-la instead of Lee-la.
I realize that it's silly to like a character simply because she shares your name and specific pronunciation of it, but that's just the way it goes. (Take that, you stinker. Tell ME my name is "pronounced wrong". Who does that? Jerk. Names are IMPORTANT. You don't tell someone that their name is wrong. Sorry. Back to the book.)
Of course, that was just where my affection began. She also likes to start sentences with 'And'. I liked her for that, too. But there's obviously more -- I'm not so easily swayed that I like a character solely due to her name and her writing quirks.
As trite as it sounds, she's special. Everyone sees it but her -- she thinks that she needs to strive just to be average. Usually, that isn't a characteristic that works for me, but it did here, because it was true. She isn't being self-deprecating or disingenuous. That is how she sees herself. And that might be part of what makes her so special:
Da is always talking about what a big heart I have. At first, I thought it was only something he said when the girls were being particularly difficult, but eventually I came to see that he believed it. Personally, I think that what he calls a big heart is my inability to gather information easily. When you screw up your left and right, see letters backwards, and know you often make mistakes, it's easier to wait and see exactly what's what. Deciding quickly on an answer or conclusion--about anything--makes me wrong more than is already necessary.
Even though the entire book is from Leila's perspective, she never convinced me of her mediocrity. I agree with her father. She does have a big heart.
The book itself, though it deals with suicide and grieving and pain, didn't make me cry. Leila's voice is so analytical that I always felt held away at arm's length. But that distance made everything even better -- it allowed me to see everything and everyone, rather than getting wrapped up in the emotions of one character. She sees and explains events so clearly -- she might be the most trustworthy narrator I've ever come across. It felt a bit like a play, which was probably deliberate, as Leila's dream (one of them) is to design sets for plays.
Stay With Me reminded me of Shopgirl at moments, partially due to the obvious plot similarities (Leila gets involved with a much older man), but also because of the overall tone. I also thought of Six Feet Under and Edward Tulane. Rather than stories about getting through pain and leaving it behind, these are stories about living with pain, accepting it and still moving on. But not leaving it behind, because that isn't always possible. And maybe usually isn't.