Fourteen years separates the publishing dates between Anyone But You, by Jennifer Crusie and Stay, by Allie Larkin, Cruise gets out there first in 1996 and Larkin’s the relative newcomer – her book was just published. It just goes to show that the “girl-gets-dog-and-lives-happily-ever-after” theme in romance fiction is alive and well.
There are some interesting parallels between these two novels – the most obvious are the dogs themselves. Joe, a five month old, German Shepherd and the canine star in Larkin’s novel, is an internet purchase made when his soon-to-be owner, Savannah Leone, decides she needs a friend – a “friend” that will never let her down. What more perfect friend than a dog?
Nina Askew has already decided that she wants a dog. Anyone But You opens with Nina explaining to “…the brown-uniformed woman behind the scarred metal counter at Riverbend Animal Control” (P. 7) that she wants a puppy. “Something perky.” (P. 7)
And, why does she want a puppy? She’s just turned forty and the puppy will be the present she gives herself. “Forty was a good age for a woman. It meant freedom. Especially freedom from her overambitious ex-husband and their overpriced suburban castle which had finally sold after a year of open-house hell….And now she was forty. Well, she was delighted to be forty. After all, that was the reason she was getting a dog of her own.” (P. 7-8)
What decision does she make?
Despite the charms of the wriggly pile of puppies that she walks by as she’s walking through the kennel area of available dogs, Nina finds herself drawn to a sad-sack of an older dog: “The dog had huge bags under his dark eyes, and hunched his shoulders, and a white coat blotched with what looked like giant liver spots. He sat on the damp concrete like a bulked up vulture and stared at her, not barking, not moving.” (P. 9)
He is, as the kennel attendant explains, a mix of basset and beagle with basset the more visible influence. And, today’s his last day for adoption. If no one wants him, he’s been tagged for euthanasia.
“Nina took one last glance at the tumbling, chubby puppies. Prozac with four legs and a tail. Then she looked at the other dog, depressed, alone, too old to be cute anymore if he’d ever been. “I have a lot in common with this dog.” she told the attendant. “And besides, I’d never sleep again knowing I could have saved him and didn’t.” (P. 10-11)
She fills out the paperwork, loads him into the car and takes him home.
His name is Fred.
Joe and Fred become secondary characters, never up-staging the women who bring them home and love them. They serve as touchstones for moving the respective story lines along, provide occasional comic relief – this is especially true for Cruise – and invariably become the main focus when something happens to put them in harm’s way. Much like what happens in real life with real people and their pets.
Whereas Larkin keeps the focus on Savannah (“Van”); Van is the narrator telling her story from beginning to end, Crusie, using third person narration, switches back-and-forth between Nina and her male counterpart, Alex Moore.
He’s an attractive, intelligent, charming and compassionate guy who is happily working as an emergency room doctor much to the dismay of his entire family. His parents and siblings have all chosen specialties in the medical field and can’t understand why Alex won’t do the same. He is also Nina’s downstairs neighbor.
And, he is ten years younger.
Aside from the age difference, which really bothers Nina, but only serves as an enticing “extra” for Alex, the two are almost evenly matched. Neither want children. Both like their careers. Nina has a best friend – Charity – who keeps Nina in check (sometimes).
Charity: “Nina, you’ve been forty for about forty-eight hours. Estrogen deprivation won’t start for at least another week.” (P. 57)
Her taste in fashion is noticeably different than Nina’s more conservative style. Charity’s more apt to wear a “red leather miniskirt” and four inch heels” (P. 21), piling her “long kinky red hair up on top of her head and typing it up with a long black stocking” (P. 21) before going out on a date. Except that, as Nina explains, “Charity doesn’t have dates…She has disasters with cab fares.” (P. 94)
Nina and Charity have the kinds of conversations that girlfriends have when the door is closed and it’s just the two of them. Their frank assessment of what it’s like to be forty is hysterically funny.
Alex’s older brother Max is the guy equivalent of Charity. As Alex tries to figure out how he can get Nina to take him seriously, Max offers up all kinds of advice, from how to recognize the right moment to kiss Nina to why Alex’s Daffy Duck shorts might be a deal breaker when it comes to sex.
Max: “Alex, listen to me carefully…I’m telling you this as your brother and as your best friend…Never wear Daffy Duck shorts to seduce a woman. You want her gasping in awe when she looks down, not wondering how old you are.” (P. 175)
Cruise is a delightful, comedic storyteller. Anyone But You is timeless and will be just as funny and romantic twenty years from now because no matter how much time goes by, some things stay the same. Falling in love, because a sad-eyed basset-beagle, older dog catches your eye in a kennel or because there’s a spark of recognition between a man and a woman who just happen to meet, is a story that always plays well to an audience. If we can laugh too, even better. And, the “happily ever after part?”
That’s the icing on the cake.
I found this book in the library, which is where I suggest you start. Otherwise, if you decide you’d like to purchase it, and you do so through my blog, I will receive a small monetary “reward” as I am an Amazon affiliate.