Emily O's Reviews > If You Want Me to Stay

If You Want Me to Stay by Michael    Parker
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Dec 04, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: contemporary-lit
Recommended to Emily by: Michael Parker
Read in June, 2012 — I own a copy

I am not a big fan of the summer novel. I tend to read exactly the same kind of novels during the summer as I would any other time of year. That said, I honestly think that If You Want Me To Stay is the perfect book for summer. It's one of the rare books that manages to be exciting and readable without compromising on quality. Full disclosure: Michael Parker is one of my professors at UNCG, and his class on the contemporary novel was one of my favorites. It was partially because I loved his teaching that I decided to pick up his collection of short stories (review here) and then one of his novels. I can tell you now that I have not been disappointed. Set in North Carolina during a hot summer (much like the one we're having now), If You Want Me to Stay is a luminous example of the power of voice in creating a truly enjoyable reading experience.

Narrated by a 14-year old boy, If You Want Me to Stay is above all an incredible example of the effective use of narrative voice. Joel Jr. is an incredibly interesting narrator with a voice that is both unique and believable. Having lived in North Carolina for a good portion of my life, I can tell you that I have met boys who talk exactly like Joel. He is sometimes funny, sometimes cynical, almost always honest, and completely real. But Parker's use of voice goes far beyond the simple mastery of dialect. Where Parker really shines is in how he gets into Joel's head. If You Want Me to Stay starts with a sort of free narrative style, with Joel as the narrator. He tells the story, but with little asides, thoughts, and observations thrown in that make it feel like a real person talking or thinking. What I really loved about the style was that as the novel progressed Joel's narration became more stream-of-consciousness than not. The last few sections are in a nearly impressionistic style, painting the images Joel sees and mixing them with his thoughts, feelings, memories, and the music that courses throughout the novel. It's a great device, because the narrative gets more stream of consciousness as the boys get more tired and confused, making the style match the content and theme of the novel. Parker's use of voice and narrative style was by far my favorite part of If You Want Me to Stay, and I would recommend it for that alone.

As I mentioned in my review of The Geographical Cure, Parker is also incredibly talented at building setting, able to put readers right into a place without a lot of exposition or superfluous description. If You Want Me to Stay is no different. In this novel, Parker creates the perfect atmosphere of central and coastal North Carolina; the muggy summers, the boggy forests, and the beach towns all come to life in a way that is both delightful and unobtrusive. Having lived in North Carolina for a majority of my life, I can tell you that he absolutely nailed the setting. But what's great about Parker is that while he makes the place a real and integral part of the story and of the characters, he doesn't hit you over the head with it. Instead, the setting is woven into the story in much the same way as it is woven into our lives. It is important in that it is always there, but not so important as to steal the scene from the characters or themes. Instead, it creates a kind of atmosphere that I found very effective and enjoyable to read.

Now, there were a few things that I thought could have been better about this novel. While I loved the way that Parker weaved music into the story, I thought that it was occasionally too much, especially towards the end. I understand why he chose to use the music, and it worked very well thematically, but sometimes it was so much as to make Joel's character seem unrealistic. No-one thinks about music that much, no mater what they've been through. Since Joel was otherwise an incredibly lifelike and well-drawn character, this stuck out a bit and bothered me. Also, while I found the story be be generally well-paced and well-structured, there was a part just before the end that went on for too long, and that threw the structure off and made it drag a bit. Other than those two things, the book was very well put together and flowed perfectly from one scene to the next. Those two problems were more slight annoyances than real issues.

Overall, If You Want Me to Stay was a thoroughly enjoyable novel. It was fast-paced and interesting without sacrificing good writing or round characters. While it isn't something I'd call a modern classic, it is definitely something I would recommend to anyone who wants their summer reading to be both enjoyable and intelligent. I can assure you that I will be picking up another of Michael Parker's books again in the near future.

Rating: 3.5 stars
Recommendations: Realistic characters, great setting, a great summer read. Some profanity and violence.
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