The very first Charlotte Stein novel I read was Curveball, recommended by Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches/Trashy Books. Curveball completely charmed me with its self-conscious, completely incredulous heroine who is baffled, astounded and even a bit frightened by the unexpected advances of her brother’s best-friend and long-time crush when they are thrust together during Mediterranean sailing vacation. Charlotte’s voice is incredibly distinctive, urgent and insistent. I absolutely loved it. I ran to check out her other stories via the NYPL and end up reading Deep Desires, a story of voyeurism, risk and connection, which was jaw-droopingly different in tone than Curveball, while remaining completely recognizable as a Charlotte Stein story.
I was honestly hooked, she blew my little mind with her tales. Since then I have started collecting her stories, and have about a half-dozen in my TBR, waiting like little treasures. The stories I have read just make me so happy because however dark, unloved and undesired her characters feel, there is always this transforming hope that breaks through the darkness, when they make a serendipitous connection. The sex in these stories is often frantic, messy, clumsy and awe-inspiring, but no one is magically fixed simply by sex.
A couple of weeks ago Charlotte Stein who I frequently interact with on twitter (she is incredibly funny and wacky, and just a great deal of fun to chat with) made available the final version of her newest novel to those willing to review. I jumped at the chance. I have always wanted to review one of her stories here.
Beyond Repair is a New Adult romance about a reclusive young woman who finds movie star, sprawled out and unconscious in the living room of her beachfront home. Alice recognizes that he isn’t simply drunk but quite possibly suffering from an intentional overdose because she has gone through it. Alice is anything but alright with this intrusion but she awkwardly and nervously sets out save the movie star, Holden Stark. She ends up offering him the oddest of refuges, letting him stay, accepting him, comforting him, and most all just trying ever so hard not creep on him, even though she has a massive crush on him.
“She was trying to revive Holden Stark.
Holden Stark, who she would now have to speak to using her actual words and her real mouth.”
Alice is not daunted simply because he is gorgeous movie star, she is daunted because she is lame, scarred, agoraphobic and more than a little rusty at interacting with people. The novel is just fantastic, filled with hilarious slightly surreal conversations, where Alice is working so incredibly hard not to embarrass herself, push any wrong buttons, or reveal too much of her own past and pain.
“Don’t be sorry about anything in this conversation. It’s probably the most amazing one I’ve ever had”
I just loved Alice, her vulnerability, doubt, sense of inadequacy, her lust and embarrassment.
“She was just starting to smile when he suddenly swerved the conversation into oncoming traffic.”
Holden Stark, outwardly an impressive movie star, but really a sad lonely geek inside, was wonderful. I loved his hurt, tentativeness, and his utter appreciation of Alice. I only had the briefest of frustration with him allowing Alice to so obviously distract him from noticing her pain and secrets, when he is only just starting to recover. But I loved how hard he worked at respecting her boundaries, and understanding her as she evaded and distracted. If she brought him into her home to give him refuge, he gave her a refuge from her insecurities in his admiration.
“Just ignore my voice. There’s a frightened nun living in my throat.”
He went to answer and had to stop to make room for the most awesome laugh. It was all surprised and full of joy, and it followed through into his words.
“Who are you? I must be dreaming you. Did I die, and this is my reward?”
“If your idea of being rewarded after death is a five-foot-five-inch hermit who makes you run right off a bed, you probably need to rethink your priorities.”
I loved Beyond Repair, and I continue to love the manifesto (to steal Ruthie Knox’s term) in so many of Charlotte’s novels: You don’t have to perfect or whole to be worthy of love. I love her broken people reaching for love despite, their haunting senses of unworthiness.
“One of the biggest lies out there is the one that says you have to be whole to be loved — that if you’re not it’s a miracle anyone would. But my love for you is not some flimsy miracle based on whether you’re okay or not. Love is something you deserve. You deserve it so much I sometimes ache to give it to you.”
I recommend Beyond Repair, and prepare yourself to snort-laugh at the outrageous embarrassments and mortification Alice and Holden endure as they flail, cry, surprise and fall for each other.
A copy of Beyond Repair was provided by the author Charlotte Stein for review purposes.