To receive the email of someone reaching out to me through the ‘contact’ page of Fiction Books always gives me a bit of a buzz, so during the long days of lockdown it was good to chat with author Stewart Lewis, about his latest book, Happily Whatever After. Whilst I am generally not drawn to a RomCom this one sounded so quirky and sure to lighten my mood, that I decide to give it a go! Through the mix of tears and emotional angst, to the pure delight of some of the laugh out loud moments, I can honestly say that Happily Whatever After has changed my entire perspective on the genre and opened up a whole new world of reading to me 🙂
HAPPILY WHATEVER AFTER
Thirtysomething Page was content with her life in New York City—until it went to the dogs. Unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend of four years and fired from her art gallery job in the same week, she flees to Washington, DC, and moves in with her big brother. She hopes the new setting and familial comfort will help her finally find her bearings. What Page finds instead is an unlikely refuge: a park for the neighborhood’s poshest pooches, and a quirky pack of companionable dog-run regulars who become fast friends.
Both four-legged and two-, these new allies offer Page a world of possibilities. The woman who hit rock bottom now has dreams: of having her own business, getting her own place, and even wilder ones about the ruggedly handsome owner of a vineyard and two equally fetching Bernese mountain dogs.
Unleashed from all that once held her back, Page finds everything might be falling into place. But just when she thinks her life is headed in the right direction, the road takes a sharp turn to show her just how unpredictable second chances can be. Will Page get her happily ever after? Is there even such a thing?
Witty, smartly funny, and modernly romantic, Happily Whatever After shows us all that sometimes imperfect can still be good enough.
His novels have been translated into five languages and his songs have been used in TV and film worldwide.
Stewart’s essays have also appeared in several anthologies.
His favourite things are; his French bulldog Oliver, travelling, good food and good friends.
Catch up with Stewart’s latest news at his website
Connect with Stewart on Facebook
Follow Stewart on Twitter
“It was a well-groomed Scottie dog that first attracted me to what I called the Elite Dog Park, a mound of Astroturf in the shape of an elongated triangle tucked into a trendy section of the city near Dupont Circle.”
“Marriage seemed to be more about what we were supposed to do, what others wanted us to do, rather than what was right for us.”
“I’d started to understand the spell a painting could put me under. The way that light on canvas could recreate life, the feeling that you could almost step into it.”
“It was strange how new money sometimes tried so desperately to be old money.”
“Everyone always tells you to be yourself, but what if that is something that isn’t stagnant and keeps evolving? When do you actually catch up with it?”
“First, I was convinced love was about money, then I thought it was about power and status, then I thought it was just about caring for one another … but let’s face it, if Barkley wasn’t Barkley, I probably wouldn’t be with him. There are a million factors, but the most important thing is to be able to love someone and still be yourself. So many people give up themselves for some twisted version of love.”
“It seemed that being in my thirties was a way of slowly disconnecting with my former life. The random people I knew, and even some close friends, just fell away, like shedding skin. The information age seemed to isolate people even more, texting replacing conversation, everyone obsessed with their screens.”
“Then we waited in silence. It was obvious what all of us were thinking: This is mortality, that thing we shove into the recesses of our mind. And here it was, right in front of our faces.”
“I would no longer rely on men for my happiness. I had found it in my gallery, in my friends, in my family. I had carved a place for myself in the DC world.”
“Everyone is someone’s true love.”
Wow! I need to stop for a moment and allow myself to draw breath. I feel quite worn out after that rollercoaster ride of emotions and non-stop action!
A great beginning, a totally unpredictable storyline, and an ending I never saw coming, albeit a bit more up in the air than I would have liked it to have been. Who can complain about the format of this book? No boring or conventional around here! Maybe a subliminal portent of a follow-up story being on the horizon?
I really enjoyed Stewart’s style of writing: short, razor sharp chapters with eye-catching titles; punchy, witty narrative and dialogue from an unforgettable cast of characters who almost defined themselves and told their own life stories; and a multi-layered storyline full of life, emotions, intrigue and interest from beginning to end.
I don’t think I have ever had the privilege to meet such a powerfully portrayed and eclectic mix of supporting characters before, including Page’s disastrous couple of dalliance’s with one-night stands. In fact my initial reaction was ‘whoa! do people like this really exist in real life, and all in one place?’ Then I paused for thought and came to the conclusion that in such a large and cosmopolitan city like Washington DC, this probably is a true reflection of a cross section of the population, with maybe just a smidge of over-egging and exaggeration by Stewart – in a nice way of course!
I really found myself caring about this larger than life, profusion of characters as if I knew them personally and found myself amazed at just how much they took Page to their hearts so quickly, not judging her, genuinely wanting to take care of her and protect her, each in their own individual way. In return, Page also played her part in uniting this small, disparate group of people, who didn’t really know one another, their only commonality being their dogs and visiting the ‘doggie park’, this notion made even more comical by the fact that Page was the only one there without a dog of her own, until she manages to ‘borrow’ one!
When the chips are down and Page needs to move forward quickly on her plan to open her own gallery, all of her new found friends rally around to offer their help and support and it is only then that both we (and I suspect they also), discover talents many of them never knew they possessed, giving them a real sense of purpose in helping Page see her dream come to fruition. I think they all discovered a true sense of community and belonging, which Page seems blissfully unaware she has played such a huge part in making happen. No more solitary, silent sitting in the doggie park for this little team!
There is also a second, much deeper storyline running in parallel for the main protagonists. One of family ties and values. Of new beginnings and not judging people until you have put yourself in their place and walked in their shoes. The personal struggle and journey of discovering what really matters to you, what you want from your own life and how much you want those close to you to be a part of that new beginning.
Page’s bond with her brother Brady is strong and unbreakable, unlike the relationship she has with her widowed, slightly alcoholic mother and Brady’s partner Jane. Brady has the same passion for food, as Page has for the arts, but unlike Page who is drifting from day to day, Brady is very self-assured and has channelled his passion into a successful and challenging career. He longs for the time when Page comes to define herself and accepts that dreams in life can and must adapt and change, as he knows that she can be happy and successful, if only she will open up her heart and mind, to let it happen.
However, when things get really tough and Brady is fighting for his very life, it is Jane and Page’s mum who rally together and begin making the practical decisions, forcing Page to recognise that she has been too quick to judge them in the past, without asking herself why and on what evidence she has based her opinions. After bearing witness to some profoundly touching, soul searching private moments by Page, we witness her really stepping up to the plate, despite the very draining nature of the challenge, both physically and mentally. She also quickly realises that far from impeding her new self-imposed caring regime, Jane and her mother are more than willing to play their part and in fact Jane’s organisational skills, far from grating on Page as they might have done in the past, are just what they all need to maintain a level of calm and structure.
As I mentioned previously, the ending whilst not totally unexpected and perfectly acceptable as endings go, did come upon me quite suddenly as something of a surprise, leaving quite a few loose ends and unanswered questions. I do think there might be real mileage in Stewart pursuing a follow-up story, although I didn’t feel short-changed in any way.
From Page once being a very small fish in the very big lake of NYC, to her becoming a big fish in the small and intimate pond of her local community, this read was pure perceptive and intuitive escapism, with some laugh out loud moments, some cry baby sad and emotionally draining times, some life lessons well learned, and many new beginnings and friendships forged.
Definitely a rom-com to escape into, full of heart and humour, and definitely with added pizzazz 🙂
A Kindle download of this book, was kindly gifted to me by its author, Stewart Lewis, with the download being facilitated by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 4 out of 5 stars!