Title: Live (Burnside, #1)
Author: Mary Ann Rivers
Rating: 4 Stars
Live is one of those novels I feel compelled to write a review for, despite having nothing to say. Mary Ann Rivers's stories are so wrought with emotion - my heart is always too tangled up in their arcs - for me to objectively put into words what I love. For I love everything. I love these characters, sharp and hurting and bitter and true. I love their growth, unstable and unsteady and messy and hard. I love the settings, realistic to a flaw, a home away from home, and utterly lovable. But, perhaps most importantly, I love the words. Mary Ann Rivers's words, from her descriptions to her dialogue. And I love all the words that go unsaid, all the words that are conveyed with just a look, a glance, a touch. I love all the words swirling around in the minds of these far-too-real-to-be-fictional beings.
When Des receives yet another rejection e-mail, cementing the fact that she has been unemployed for months at this point, she begins to cry, very publicly, in the library. Hefin, the Welsh woodcarver Des has privately lusted after nearly every day, cannot help himself from reaching out to Des. Des, who walks with purpose, optimism, and a smile on her face every day, even though she has no job, has just lost her father, and her indomitable older sister is injured. And Hefin, whose failed marriage has never stopped haunting him. Des and Hefin's brief contact, however, is only the beginning of a beautiful relationship...one that both Hefin and Des know will end once Hefin's contract is finished as he is returning back to Wales. But for a romance that is supposed to be temporary, love is turning out to feel a lot more permanent.
From its synopsis, Live reads like such a classic contemporary romance novel. And yet, as is always the case with Mary Ann Rivers, it is much, much more. Des, for instance, has always remained in her small hometown in Ohio, going no more than a few miles away to attend university and returning straight back to live surrounded by neighbors she knew and the siblings she loves. When Sarah, Des's headstrong older sister, is gravely injured in a biking accident following her father's death, these four siblings are left grasping at straws. In the midst of them all, Des frantically attempts to keep her family together.
She felt like no matter how much she loved Sam and Sarah and PJ she'd never understand the trick of how her dad held them all together.Meanwhile, though Des's actions are propelled forward by her selflessness and love for her family, Hefin's past has never been able to leave him. A whirlwind marriage brought him from Wales to America, impulsively, but left him broken by the end. Even now, years later, Hefin cannot stop blaming himself for his failed marriage, for slowly turning his love and affection into bitterness and despair. Neither Des, with her responsibilities and little time, or Hefin, with his stark emotional unavailability, are ideal for each other. Although their physical chemistry is off-the-charts, Des and Hefin are not, no matter how much they wish it, the solution to one another's problems. Watching them stumble through their own personal hurdles and attempt to make their relationship work through honesty and frankness was both heartbreaking and hopeful.
In fact, she had never doubted that they would ever have any trouble holding together, forever, until he left them behind to scatter. His ashed swirling in the wind on the winter morning just a few months ago took longer to disappear than their Sunday dinners, the ease that his children had always had with each other.
Now she was the only one who seemed to remember that there was a way that they could all fit.
Despite the fact that neither Hefin nor Des are ideal partners, capable of breaching the divides between them, the fact that they are able to look objectively upon one another's lives gives their relationship an uncomfortable, but necessary sense of clarity. Where Hefin is able to see only his failures from his past marriage, taking in all the hurt and pain and resentment and internalizing it, Des is able to turn around and see that Hefin's ex-wife, too, contributed to the collapse of their relationship. Similarly, where Des is only able to give love and give affection and give help to her family members, Hefin is able to identify that, sometimes, she needs to take it too.
Mary Ann Rivers has always written brilliant, provocative love stories in which characters fall, but sometimes they fall in puddles or are scraped and bruised along the way. None of her romances are easy, simple equations, especially not Des and Hefin. Moreover, the flaws these two possess are revealed right alongside their strengths, which makes falling in love falling for the bad sides as well as the good. While much of the arc of this relationship feels like saying goodbye - because, at the end, that is what Des and Hefin are telling one another - the conclusion to their tale is unforgettable. It is strong and empowering and oh-so-right for both these characters, not convenient in the least. Live is an incredible tale of finding your place in the world, especially when you think it belongs in a box where all your emotional needs aren't being met. It's about gathering the courage to look beyond and grasp that better opportunity that comes your way, even if it means sacrifice. It is only the first of Mary Ann Rivers's full-length novels and for that, I am infinitely glad for if there is anything I need more of, it is her words.