After the tragic accident that killed her mother, Erin Blackwell has lived on her grandmother's multi-million dollar racehorse farm in Kentucky. While her grandmother has always insisted Erin do a business degree in order to take over the family business, Erin decides instead to pursue her desire to write with an arts degree in New York City. In retaliation, her grandmother makes the stableboy, Hunter Allen, heir to the farm and bestows upon him
the means to do the business degree. Meanwhile, Erin is living the life of a poor student, supplementing her scholarship with meagre wages from cafes.
Since Hunter is at the same university as Erin, she knew their paths would cross at some point, but she never expected to have him transfer into her creative writing class - on the very day the students are reading her
short story, a historical romance where a socialite develops a clandestine relationship with the stable boy. Fearful that Hunter will reveal that he
is Erin's stableboy, thus losing her a coveted internship at a publishing house, Erin must talk to him. But even with his promise not to tell, it's clear from his short story that he has a message for her. As their stories go back and forth, and Erin finds herself in his company more and more, it's clear that there's something going on with Hunter that has nothing to do with her grandmother's racehorse farm.
I enjoyed Echols' previous two drama novels,
Going Too Far
immensely, so when this came out I instantly got a copy. That was last year. Since the novel opens with Erin's first short story, "Almost a Lady", it failed to pull me in and after a page I put it aside. I did that a few more times before finally committing myself to reading it. Unfortunately, that initial impression held true for the rest of the book.
I wanted to like this so much more than I did. It was about university-aged kids, for a start, and I've always felt that the university years get strangely ignored in fiction in general. It was about writing, which I could completely relate to - though I realised I know little about the American university system, because all Erin's references to being in the "honors program" made me think at first that she was a fourth year student. And I thought that the premise and structure of Love Story
had immense promise and potential - combined with horses, and I thought it was going to be a book I'd love. Sadly, not the case at all.
Ultimately, the word that comes to mind in describing this book is "mess". Love Story
was a more complicated plot than the other two, though it really didn't need to be - the plot was loose, unravelling, messy, confusing and quite frankly didn't seem to know what
was going on. I felt the same way. Between trying to figure out what the big deal was with Erin's grandmother and the horse farm, and what kind of prior relationship she'd had with Hunter before university, if any, and what all the back and forth was all about. I honestly couldn't understand what was going on, now
, because I didn't know what had happened - if anything - before
. That didn't have to be a problem, but the way Erin narrates, the cryptic comments and weird impressions and all her subtext readings were like red herrings. I spent most of the novel waiting: waiting to understand, waiting for Erin to actually have a concrete thought, something
If you look at it another way, though, Erin is a perfect example of the unreliable narrator, whose perspective is skewed by her own personality and her own interpretations of things. Added to this is her mostly negative impressions of Hunter which unsuccessfully hide the fact that she's practically obsessed with him.
In turn, Hunter is something of an enigma for most of the book, but the true Hunter comes through despite Erin's red herrings - though his comments about her playing at being a poor girl, while there's a reason for them, made him come across as a real arsehole. Actually, a lot of Hunter's scenes make him look like an arse, though by the end of the book I was more sympathetic towards him than I was Erin (which says a lot about how annoying Erin became), because the reader is able to see past Erin's misinterpretations and hang-ups to the real boy, and since we don't get his
internal monologuing, he get to see
what he's going through rather than just being told. In fact, we're not told a whole lot in regards to him - nothing much trustworthy, anyway.
And the whole horse farm thing, and Erin's yearning for a father who was a lazy bum who physically assaulted her mother on numerous occasions when they lived with him in California, most of that didn't make sense to me. Yes so she has daddy issues, but with her memories of him hitting her mum, and being the indirect cause of the accident that killed her, why does she still wish he would come for her? Don't answer that, I know, he's the only parent she's got, she's lonely, and who doesn't want to be loved by their parents? It makes sense when I
think about it, but it doesn't make sense the way it's presented in the story. Likewise the horse farm thing - I couldn't tell, and still can't, whether she's actually upset that her grandmother disinherited her, pissed off that Hunter "stole" it (she refers to it that way many times, and yet it rings hollow), etc. She loves horses and riding and has a natural gift for the races (or, rather, a lot of experience), but her motivations and reasoning just didn't gel with other parts of her character to the extent that I couldn't understand what she actually wanted.
Some of the debates in Erin's creative writing class could have been really good; they certainly started out that way. Since Erin's first story was an out-and-out romance, and the first person to critique it was a boy who dismissed it as trash not worthy of the course, there was a real opening for some interesting debate. Likewise with the other stories that are included here. But their conversations were disappointing, or not included at all, and often disintegrated into immature jokes. I know, it's first year uni, and more realistic than what I was hoping for, but it was just one more thing to be disappointed by. I found that most of the issues brought up in this novel were skirted in the same kind of way, leaving me with little to grasp.
The ending was abrupt, especially considering how many misunderstandings between Erin and Hunter it follows, and nothing was really resolved. I found myself very surprised that Echols' editor didn't advise further revisions to make this a tighter, better fleshed out, more smoothly coherent story.