I’ve seen a couple of conversations on Twitter the last couple of months about the lack of contemporary romance heroines who didn’t have Issues in their past. So many of the characters in recent books have grim problems to overcome—crushing poverty, a history of abuse, a lack of any real friendships, neglectful families, long-dead parents. If you too have been wanting more unbaggaged heroines, then Carrie, the heroine of Mary Ann Rivers' just-released novella The Story Guy, is the woman you’ve been waiting for.
Carrie has a comfortable life, a circle of family and friends who genuinely support her. She even has work she loves “at the Metropolitan Library, where I’m happy, where I love the kingdom of teen collections over which I reign, except today, when in the middle of everything, I wasn’t.” She’s approaching middle age without any panic attacks over the fact that she hasn’t yet walked down the aisle in yards of satin and tulle. In sum, she has the sort of life I’d wish for my kids. Still, Carrie thinks there is something missing from her life.
This story so perfectly captures that feeling of restlessness that you have in life from time to time. I wasn’t single, living along in a big city and maybe lonely; I was a stay-at-home mom with two kids clinging to me and wiping their noses on my shorts when they thought I wasn’t looking. Some days were very “Is this what my life will be?” In that respect Carrie is perfectly relatable. On paper, she has everything she needs, everything she wants even. Still, it’s not enough.
It’s that nagging feeling of something missing (which she calls “Lady of a Certain Age funk") that has her reading the personal ads of a local paper, cataloging the desperate, the sleazy and the sad. One evening she sees an ad for a lunch hour rendezvous with a guy. Kissing only. No relationship, no dating. Just an hour in the park spent snogging. The ad tempts her but it’s his picture that seals the deal.
When I click on it, I’m surprised to find a clear and high-definition picture. It’s a candid of a man with very short dark hair, sitting in three-quarters view at a conference table. His dress shirt is pushed up at the elbows, his legs are crossed at the knee. He’s holding an elbow with an opposite hand, his body language completely closed, but he’s so long-limbed he almost seems loose. He’s grinning at someone off camera, and it’s his grin, the dimple it sinks into his cheek, that arrests me after reading so many lamenting personals.
So Carrie decides that although “I value my contentment, I do apparently have a little fight left—for adventure, for capital 'R' romance” and she replies to the ad, never expecting to hear back. Brian surprises her by replying almost immediately. From their tentative getting-to-know-you messages to the dreamy first hour spent kissing, to further conversations outside the strict boundaries of their agreement, the connection between Brian and Carrie quickly becomes more than a casual interlude of kisses and something much more. Carrie finds herself remembering his kisses with every “hyperdelicious” taste of food. More importantly, she wants something more from Brian than a near anonymous hour once a week. But that is the one thing Brian has said he can’t offer her, even if that is what he himself wants.
The story is told entirely through Carrie’s first-person point of view, so for much of the book the reader is as in the dark as Carrie about the obstacles Brian is facing. I had an inkling where it was headed and still I ended up wiping away tears more than once. This is a short but powerful story. I love that there are no bad guys, just two people trying to do the right thing every single day.
I hate spoilers, so I won’t give it all away, but I will say that the way he handled his problems confirmed to me that Brian in every way was deserving of Carrie. In the end I was turning the pages as fast as I could, desperate for Carrie and Brian to get their happy ending. This story ripped my heart out and I was grateful that Rivers spent the time at the end of the book, pages, showing us how Brian and Carrie worked around the difficulties facing them in a way that was realistic and true to the characters. Love is the most wonderful thing, but it can’t magically erase some problems. It does make them all more bearable though, as we shoulder life’s burdens together.
In the end, Carrie says “I’m not content anymore. I’m happy.”
Julia Broadbooks writes contemporary romance. She lives in the wilds of suburban Florida with her ever patient husband and bakes ridiculous amounts of sugary treats for her teens' friends. Find her on Twitter @juliabroadbooks.