Van wonders if there is a special hell for jealous bridesmaids; if so, she's living it. Her long-time best friend, Janie Driscoll, is marrying Peter, Van's secret true love. Peter is the guy who is perfect for Van in every way, although he certainly appears to be oblivious of anything beyond a close friendship with her. Meanwhile, Van must watch the two rapturously tie the knot from her uncomfortably close vantage point as maid of honor.
Janie's family is familiar to Van, because Van’s mother worked as the Driscolls' housekeeper. Van and her mother lived in a cottage near the Driscolls' luxurious home. Janie's mother, Diane, had once been a quirky godmother figure, sneaking Van out of school for shopping trips. Diane had bribed Van's mother with cash to remain as housekeeper even after she attained a degree that would allow her to teach. Diane had also nursed Van's mom through her decline as she died of cancer.
The night of Janie and Peter's wedding, Diane invites Van to spend the night in the cottage she had once called home. Van is startled by Peter's arrival. He is drunk and weepy and appears to be about to confide something important when Diane arrives to shoo him off to his wedding night with Janie. She makes a point of warning Van away from Peter. In fact, she gives Van a bribe --- a hefty check dubbed by the recipient as "stay away from my daughter's husband" money.
Although she wants to, Van can't bring herself to tear up Diane's bribe. It doesn't stop her from remembering how she and Peter first met in college. She muses on their long, close friendship with painful yearning. Although her mom had counseled Van to tell Peter how she felt about him, she has never done so. Now she fears everyone must know that she has remained single in hopes of a romantic connection with Peter, only to watch him marry her best friend.
When Van flees the cottage, she drives the long hours home only to find that her condo doesn't feel remotely like a "home." She proceeds to down multiple Big Gulp glasses of grape Kool-Aid and vodka, but they don't make her feel less like a sad loser. As she tries to immerse herself in late-night TV, she fixates on the canine star of “Rin Tin Tin.” A German Shepherd would be loyal and never leave her for a tinier, more genteel female, right? Finally, she discovers the German Shepherd puppy of her dreams, courtesy of the Internet. He's an adorable fluff-ball currently residing in Bratislava, Slovakia --- but Van is determined to own him.
When Van wakes up, hung over, she is horrified at the purchase she made the night before. Her horror escalates when she calculates the exchange rate and discovers she has just spent $6,001.00 for her new companion. Although appalled, she decides to go for it. But when she arrives at the airport to pick up her new puppy, she gets the surprise of her life.
While the beginning of STAY is enjoyable, the story really picks up when Joe, Van's dog, arrives. Joe has a well-realized and delightful personality that any dog lover will relate to. His presence enables Van to get on with her life rather than yearning over what might have been with Peter. This is a pleasing meld of romance and dog tale, with an empowerment theme, making for a gratifying read.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 23, 2011