Monsters: A Love Story by Liz KayMonsters: A Love Story by Liz Kay

Monsters: A Love Story

byLiz Kay

Hardcover | June 7, 2016

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A hilarious debut novel about a perfectly imperfect love story.

Even the smartest people can be stupid at love.
 
When Stacey Lane writes a feminist take on Frankenstein, she never imagines it will catch the eye of unbelievably sexy Hollywood star Tommy DeMarco. Tommy’s passion for her book—and for her, a recently widowed poet, mom, and certified mess—threatens to turn her life upside down, or maybe right-side up. From their first poolside meeting the two are set on a collision course as they go about making the book into a movie, making each other crazy, and making love, if only in secret. Fueled by desire, love, grief, expertly poured cocktails, and crackling dialogue, Monsters: A Love Story is a witty portrait of a relationship gone off the rails and two people who are made for each other—even if they’re not so sure they see it that way.
 
**A Summer Beach Read Pick for Harper’s Bazaar, the Associated Press, Purewow, and Refinery29**
 
“This fast-paced novel will have readers immersed in the heady feeling of an alcohol-fueled affair with one of the sexiest men alive.” —

“An addictive page-turner, ripe with seduction and charm, that drops insights into this messy, crazy, wonderful thing called love.” —Washington Independent Review of Books

“Entertainingly dyspeptic.” —Vogue

“A perfectly imperfect love story.”—Bookpage 
Liz Kay holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska, where she was the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize. She is a founding editor of Spark Wheel Press and the journal burntdistrict. Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Nimrod, RHINO, Sugar House Review, and Beloit Poetry Journal, and has been nominated for the Pushc...
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Title:Monsters: A Love StoryFormat:HardcoverDimensions:368 pages, 9.25 × 6.38 × 1.13 inPublished:June 7, 2016Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1101982470

ISBN - 13:9781101982471

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Reviews

Read from the Book

THE PHONE RINGS. The landline. I hate the landline. In the weeks after Michael died, it was constantly ringing--the sympathetic neigh­bors, the PTA moms, everyone wanting to know how I was doing. You don't need to know how I'm doing, I'd  think. Michael died eight months ago, so it doesn't ring that much anymore. I guess I'm still not doing well. "Stacey," the voice sings into the machine, "pick up your goddamn phone . . ." It's my sister, Jenny. "Hang on," I say as I pick up. I hold the phone away from my mouth and call down into the basement. "Time to brush teeth, boys. Get ready for bed." "You guys want to come here on Friday? We can stream a movie, make milkshakes?" We've  spent  almost  every weekend at her house. The boys are probably expecting it, but I'm starting to feel trapped. Michael was so big on routine, and now I feel like I've fallen into another one. Some­ times I just want  to wing  it. I don't know how to tell her that. "I don't know," I say. "We should let you guys get back to your own lives. I mean, we'll be fine." "No, we love having you!" I know she means it. She was born to mother--her own kids, me, the boys. This past year, she's been amazing, and I know in some ways she loves it. Being so necessary. I wander back into the living room and sit down in front of my lap­ top. I got it out earlier to look at job postings, but with my background­ an advanced  degree, two published books of poetry, and no real work experience--it's discouraging how little I'm qualified for. I could be a barista maybe. Jenny keeps talking, but I'm not really listening. I'm checking my Facebook, my e-mail. I have a separate account that comes in from my author's website, but I haven't been paying attention to it. I haven't been writing anyway, and  besides, it rarely has anything in it. But today, there's something there. The subject line reads, Interested in your book, so I open it. The note is short. "Listen to this," I say, interrupting my sister, and I read her the e-mail. Dear Ms. Lane, I just had the pleasure of reading your novel-in-verse, Monsters in the  Afterlife.  I'm wondering if you have an agent who rep­resents you. I'd be interested in discussing the film rights. "Seriously? That's so cool! Who's it from?" ''Alan something-or-other. Probably some nobody," I say, but I'm already plugging the name into Google. "Is this the same guy? Holy shit." The list of credits is long. Really long, and I recognize a lot of it. "Oh my god. What do I say? I don't have an agent." "Then answer, 'Thank you, that sounds amazing, but no, I don't have an agent because there's no money in poetry.'" It's true. My first book, The Seduction Of Eve, came out with a tiny press, but the reviews were good and it sold close to six hundred cop­ies, which  for poetry is really not bad at all. It wasn't a novel-in-verse like Monsters, but it was thematic, and each section opened and closed with poems titled "The Seduction" that retold this one moment, but the perspectives, the voices kept changing. Some of them were really beautiful, like love poems, but in others the language turned danger­ous, dark. The day the box came with the first copies of the book, I just sat on the floor and read it cover to cover, like it was something new, like it wasn't even mine. "Wow,"  Michael had said when he'd come home. "Congratulations." And he picked up a copy and flipped through it, not to read it, just to see if it was real."One more chapter?" Stevie begs. I look at the clock. It's late, past their bedtime by ten minutes, but I say yes anyway. I like reading to  them. I feel like I can fall into the book, and then I'm giving them what they want, but I don't have to think. I don't have to find my own words. When the story's over, I kiss Stevie first, leaning into the bottom bunk to tuck him in. "Give me a squeeze," I say, and he does, his little arms tight around my neck. "Who's my favorite monkey?" I say, and he squeaks, "Me!" I step on the rail and pull myself up to kiss Ben. I smooth his Hulk blanket across him, ruffle his hair. "Thanks for being my kid," I whis­per, and he smiles. "Thanks for being my mom." We do this every night. Every touch, every word the same. I love the ritual of it, the few minutes when I feel like I'm my best self. I feel like I'm getting it right. I flip off the lights and stand in the hallway outside their door, leaning against the wall, listening to them talk. Some part of me is always expecting to overhear something painful or profound, to hear them talk about Michael or me. Most nights, they don't. Tonight Stevie is talking about Spider-Man, imagining new powers he thinks would be better, what if he could fly, what if he could be invisible too?  "Invisible all the time?" Ben asks. "Or just when he wants to be?" I walk down the hall to my bedroom, and Bear pads along behind me. He curls up on the big fleece mat in the corner of the room. It's funny to think he's as settled as ever. It's the boys and I who are floun­dering. Just in different ways. They want nothing more to change, and I want everything to. Last week while the boys were at school, I packed up all of Michael's things. It seemed pointless to keep hanging on to it all, the T-shirts, the electric razor. I went to a grief session once, in the very beginning, but one of the other women was talking about how she couldn't wash her husband's clothes, how she held on to the smell of him. Some days, she said, she spent hours on the floor of their closet, trying to breathe him in, and I thought, I shouldn't be here, this isn't for me. I packed one box for each boy using old pictures. Here is the tie your father wore for your christening. Here is a T-shirt he was wearing one day at the park. In the photo, he's pushing you on the swing. Here is a wallet, a watch. I didn't know what to do with his wedding ring, so I just put it in a velvet jewelry box with mine. The upshot is that now I have all this empty space to fill. I tried spreading my clothes between both dressers, but I couldn't find the right balance. Everything feels disordered. I can never find what I want. I walk down to the kitchen and pour myself a glass of wine. At first I'd felt weird about drinking alone, but I have a rule about stop­ping at one glass, so I think it's okay. I do use my biggest glasses and I pour them pretty full, but I always stop after one. Michael and I met in Boston, in graduate school. He was studying actuary science. I was studying poetry. He had a job lined up months before graduation, and when he proposed, he said, Marry me, Stacey. God knows you can't afford not to. Then he laughed. We both did. We were really young then, and happy. We moved to Omaha right out of grad school, the year we got married. It's where Michael grew up--flyover, landlocked, just about as far as you can get from either coast, which is where I'd always lived--Boston, and before that San Francisco. First one coast and then the other, and now I'm right in the center. I don't feel very centered. I used to. I don't anymore. I take  the wine out to the living room and sit on the couch. My laptop is still sitting open, but the screen's black, timed  out. You realize your book could end up a movie? Jenny had said before we hung up. I wonder what they'll pay you. In my best year, just last year, I made three thou­sand dollars. Look at you, Michael said. I think he thought it was cute. He did risk calculation for an asset-management firm. It's not really risk if you understand math, he used to say, but I don't understand math, not even a little, so he told me not to even look at the numbers when we bought our first house. It was this sweet little bungalow in Mid­town with wood accents and dormers. Michael didn't love it, but he liked the commute, and he liked that I liked the built-in bookshelves next to the fireplace. "It's close to the university," he said. "Maybe you could teach." "I don't think we can afford this," I said, running my hand along the dark wood of the shelves. "Maybe we should rent." "Maybe you should trust me," he said. There were not any jobs at the university. There never are, but for a while  I did part-time development for an arts nonprofit. I wrote some grants and sat in on a few board meetings, but it didn't pay much and I wasn't very good at it. When Ben was born, Michael said I should just stay home. I'd walk Ben in the stroller for blocks and blocks through Happy Hollow and Dundee with all the big brick Tudors and overgrown lawns and one-way streets. We'd stop at this cute little corner market and I'd buy Ben grapes most afternoons. Plums when he got a little older. Some nights we'd walk down to this offbeat vegetarian place, though Michael liked to tease me that if I was going to be a Nebras­kan, I was going to have to learn to eat steak. I wasn't sure, really, how I felt about Nebraska, but I loved Midtown. "We need a bigger house,"  I told Michael after Stevie was born, and what I meant was a big brick Tudor with ivy. But all he saw were the detached garages and the radiators and the retrofit piping for cen­tral air-conditioning. So he bought this house, or rather it just fell into his lap, a corporate relocation deal that he couldn't pass up on. "I don't want to live out west," I said. "It's closer to my parents." "I hate your parents." But he convinced me. So we moved west. All the way west, past the cornfields at Boys Town, away from the narrow streets to the part of town that's all pedestrian malls and golf courses. We have a three-car garage and a lawn service. We have a monitored security system and a stacked slate fountain by the front walk. We don't have any ivy. Not that any of that matters now. Michael set everything up years ago, so you won't have to make any decisions, he'd  said. And there had been all these papers for me to sign. I just remember him saying, Life insurance ... trust account ... annuity. I know I should be grateful. It's probably for the best. I'm not all that good at decisions, and a job is a long shot. Still, it would be nice to have some direction. According to the boys, Jenny's husband makes the world's greatest milkshakes. I wouldn't know. I've never tried  one, though he's made them a million times. Todd is this  big, burly guy who can't go five minutes without offering you a snack or a beer, the ex-football player type you see a lot of in Nebraska, though he is not Nebraskan. Jenny and I have known him since we were kids. They moved here so our kids could be cousins like the kind we never had, Jenny said. But I think Todd fell in love with the lawns mostly. We didn't have lawns this big in San Francisco. The kids are close though. Jenny has three, two girls around the same ages as my boys, and then her littlest, a boy still in preschool. Jenny jostles the pot on her stove, waiting for the popcorn to pop. Todd's in the great room, fixing the surround sound. "No, the other remote," I hear Todd say for the third time. Jenny wrinkles her nose. I turn away from her, move to look out the window. It's late enough that the sky is a heavy gray. "So speaking of movies, this thing with your book sounds insane. I mean good insane. But, you know, crazy." Behind me the kernels start to pop, clinging loudly against the metal of the pan. There's the sound of the heavy pot dragging across the grate of the stove as she shakes it and shakes it, then the rustle of her pouring the finished popcorn into a bowl. The bowl is the color of butter and it reads Popcorn in big white letters. I have a matching bowl, but I don't ever use it.  "Can you imagine what Michael would say? I mean, he would be like, 'This is insane.'" "Wow. It's like you're channeling him." I lean closer to the win­dow, peering out. "I think we're in for more snow." "You know, refusing to talk about him is never going to make this any easier," she says. "Well, with you around, how will we ever find out?" I turn around and she's scowling, one hand on her hip. "I'm kidding," I say, but she doesn't soften at all. "You're right," I say. "He'd be thrilled."  I'm making dinner late again because I haven't been paying attention to the clock. Stevie had finally asked for a snack and I said, You've already had one, and he said, Yeah, but I'm hungry again, and when I looked up it was already seven o'clock. Lately, I've been doing this a lot. I cradle the phone against my ear while I heat tomato soup. Ben doesn't really like it, but Stevie does, and it's the fastest thing I can do. It's almost their bedtime. "I don't really understand all of this, Mom," I say. "They're buying a six-month option, whatever that means, but they're sending me a check for fifteen grand and flying me out to work on the script." I don't really need the money, but I like the thought of making it. And more impor­tant, they're flying me somewhere. More important, I get to leave. "Jenny says this producer seems like a big deal," she says. "Maybe you'll get into screenwriting and move out to L.A. and we'll actually see you once in a while." "You're seeing us for Christmas. We'll be there in a month." "You know what I mean. I don't know why you don't just move home." "To San Francisco?" I laugh. "Sure. The boys would love it. If we sell the house we could swing an efficiency apartment over someone's garage." "That's a little hyperbolic, Stacey." She's using her best professor voice. "Anyway, Jenny would  kill me if we left." They moved out here three years ago when Todd got a job with the railroad. The hours are long, but the benefits are amazing, and the cost of living's so low, Jenny's able to mostly stay home. She used to teach French full-time. Now she gives private lessons. "I'm just saying this could open some new doors." "I wouldn't get carried away," I say. "From what I understand, these options almost never pan out. Honestly, Jenny shouldn't have even told you yet." 

Bookclub Guide

Discussion Questions    1. Do you think Stacey and Tommy are monsters? Why or why not? Was there a time in your life when you felt like a monster?   2. What was your first reaction to Tommy? Was there a point at which you began to see him differently? If so, when?   3. Stacey’s novel-in-verse is a feminist reimagining of Frankenstein. How else does feminism play into the novel? Do you think Stacey is a feminist?   4. Stacey often feels that she’s not enough for her sons, while Tommy admits that he often feels like he’s in a scene in which he “play[s] a good father” (p. 42). Do you think Stacey and Tommy are bad parents? Why or why not?   5. How does Stacey deal with her grief over the death of her husband? In what ways does this grief shape her relationship with Tommy? What would have happened if Tommy had fallen in love with Stacey’s poetry while her husband was still alive?   6. How does Stacey grow throughout the novel? Is she happy at the end?   7. Stacey and Sadie both have complicated relationships with food. How does the novel address issues of female body image? Is this different in Omaha from how it is in Hollywood?   8. On p. 36, Tommy says that Monsters in the Afterlife, the film adaptation of Stacey’s novel-in-verse, isn’t about sex, but rather about control. How does the line between desire and control shift throughout the novel?   9. Discuss Tommy and Phillip as two very different suitors for Stacey. What does each man bring out in her? Which would you pick?   10. While quick-paced, romantic, and often humorous, the novel tackles some heavy themes: infidelity, parenthood, grief, feminism. Ultimately, did you relate to Stacey?To Tommy? Why or why not? Did the novel make you feel differently about decisions you’ve made in your own life?

Editorial Reviews

Selected as a Summer Beach Read Pick by Harper’s Bazaar, Associated Press, Purewow, and Refinery29 “The unlikely romance between a feminist poet and the Hollywood heartthrob who options her book is at the center of Kay’s entertainingly dyspeptic Monsters.” –-Vogue “In the tradition of Lolly Winston’s Good Grief . . . this fast-paced novel will have readers immersed in the heady feeling of an alcohol-fueled affair with one of the sexiest men alive.” --Library Journal (starred review) “Witty and so nimbly-worded, Monsters had me at hello. From the near-madcap improbability of the novel’s premise, to the punchy repartee and ping-pong banter between Stacey and Tommy, it’s impossible to resist the book’s charms. .” --Jill Alexander Essbaum, author of Hausfrau “A perfectly imperfect love story . . . Kay has created a heartfelt, sometimes dark but ultimately romantic story about what happens when two broken people come together.” – BookPage“A smart, satirical feminist novel, but as the subtitle suggests, it's also a romance.” --ShelfAwareness “I love to see truth in writing when it comes to love and relationships . . . [Monsters is] an electric, fast-moving novel.” – B&N Reads “An addictive read: a page-turner that is at once dark and uplifting, shocking and hopeful. Kay's book takes a sharp spin on the notion of fairy tale romance.” --Janelle Brown, author of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything "At times somber, at times heartwarming, the story of this improbable romance is an addictive page-turner, ripe with seduction and charm, that drops insights into this messy, crazy, wonderful thing called love.." --Washington Independent Review of Books “This one will make you laugh and cry . . . Monsters is fast-paced and completely addictive.” --Purewow “The novel’s wry insights into messy relationships put me in mind of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. and Emma Straub’s The Vacationers.” --Timothy Schaffert, author of The Swan Gondola “This edgy and entertaining novel would make a great beach read.” –-Booklist  “Magical.” --Lucy Sykes, author of The Knockoff   “When monsters fall in love, it is impossible not to watch, impossible to put the book down.” --Rebecca Rotert, author of Last Night at the Blue Angel   “A deeply felt and modern day spin on the fairy tale notion of happily-ever-after. . . Smart, fun, sexy writing.” --Mark Haskell Smith, author of Raw: A Love Story   “Monsters is smart, witty, hilarious, raunchy, irresistible, and full of crackling dialogue.” --Catherine Texier, author of Victorine   “Reads like a seduction. I couldn’t stop. . . Monsters they may be, but vulnerable monsters with hearts full of yearning.” --Amy Hassinger, author of The Priest’s Madonna