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Bibliocrack Review: Big Boy by Ruthie Knox

I . . . I am just not going to be able to pull off being at all dignified about this book. I couldn't possibly manage it and, what's more, I am not the least bit interested in trying. Because this book is so good it makes my teeth hurt. And I just wasn't expecting teeth-hurting goodness, you know? I was expecting a bit of fun, an engaging evening. It's a novella, for crying out loud! How much awesome can Ruthie Knox pack into 66 pages? Honestly. I should just stop asking myself that question. It doesn't even signify anymore in a world of Courtney Milan and Ruthie Knox novellas. I read Knox's How to Misbehave novella not long back and thought it was extremely cute. And so when I heard about this Strangers on a Train compilation, I knew I'd be reading Knox's contribution for sure. If you're interested in the story behind the anthology, I highly recommend Knox's take on it here. I love reading about how authors come together behind a single idea and go on to interpret it in different ways. And, just for fun, here's the Hot Guys on the Train tumblr that got the ball rolling.

Mandy has been living in limbo for too long. Ever since her sister died, she's been Mama to her baby nephew Josh. And transitioning from single professor of history to single mother hasn't been at all smooth. She loves Josh with a fierceness that sometimes frightens her, but she can't seem to reconcile who she seems to be now with who she was. And so when her friend and colleague Lisa convinces her to try an online dating site, Mandy is intrigued when she runs across eight different profiles for the same guy. She contacts him, agreeing to meet one night at the local train museum. And it is as though a lifeline has been thrown out. Now, once a month, Mandy meets this man whose real name she does not know. They never talk about their real lives. The come incognito, stepping away from reality--just for one night--to be someone else. And even though she knows it's not healthy (it couldn't possibly be healthy), Mandy is amazed to realize that every incarnation, every persona she crafts, every story she tells, allows her to reframe her world in terms she can accept. This man, this stranger she looks for in the nameless faces on the streets every day, is unknowingly aiding her in understanding her new life. The problem is, of course, he's also changing what she is looking for, from anonymity and escape to connection and permanence. And Mandy knows very well how little he is interested in those things. There must be reasons for the life he's chosen, after all. And despite her nascent hopes, Mandy is pretty sure those reasons will prove wholly incompatible with real life.

I still can't quite wrap my brain around how much I love this story, how completely it consumed me. I love it so much I'm actually fairly desolate a print copy doesn't exist for me to hug (I've just never been able to bring myself to hug my Nook). But my tactile issues aside, it is enough that it exists at all. Because reading it gave me every single last one of the feelings. I may actually have held my breath for the entire 66 pages. My heart pounded and my throat tightened with sympathy for Mandy and her agonizing situation, the lengths that she went to to keep Josh safe and happy, to keep her academic life rolling, to keep herself from going off the rails doing it all. I understood her. Oh my, did I understand her. And I couldn't look away. Not from her and not from the words on the page for fear she would be left alone to cope with the solitary, exhausting hand she'd been dealt. And I didn't want that. I didn't want her to be alone.
He tucks his head against my neck, breathing warm against my skin, and I feel so guilty. So inadequate.

I should've canceled my office hours and stayed home with him. I should put him in daycare, but I can't afford it. My salary is pitiable,and I have loans to pay off. So I make do with a couple of babysitters, telling myself he's better off at home, spending as much time as possible with me.

But when I'm at home with him, I'm a distracted mother, always trying to get away with as much work or as much cleaning as I can. He wants nothing but me--my attention, my love--and I want to give it to him, only I want so many other things, too.

When Paige and I were kids, we both thought we'd have big families one day. I imagined a husband and three children, every little girl's version of domestic bliss. Then I went to college, and I spent the summer after my sophomore year as a camp counselor in Colorado. The job was relentless. Cabins full of eight-year-olds for three weeks at a stretch. They never stopped needing me for one second. I felt like I was suffocating.

That's when I decided I wasn't cut out to be a mother. I was always the better student, anyway. I focused on school and let Paige focus on motherhood. She found her husband, her scrapbooking group, her happy domesticity. I went to grad school and fooled around in an unserious way with unserious boys.

I pet Josh's back, breathing against the solid weight of his sleeping body pressing into my neck, my breasts, my belly. I wouldn't trade him for the world.

I want him to have everything, but all he has is me.
For such a quiet, intimate story, it packs a hell of an emotional punch. In fact, I was so unprepared for that punch I actually found myself in tears (a fairly rare occurrence) at one point. Real tears. The ones that only fall when you suddenly and unexpectedly encounter a specific, shared emotion within the leaves of a book. I'm really not sure what else to say, except that I loved the history of trains. I loved the costumes, the slang, the troubling, stifled longing. I loved the knowing attention to detail with which Ms. Knox painted everyday life. I loved Mandy and her man. Most of all, I loved the way she was afraid but had the courage to love anyway. And to say it in so many words. Brava.

Buy:

 

Linkage
Fiction Vixen - "This is the best short story I think I’ve ever read. Ever."
Harlequin Junkie - "This author can write about practically anything and its good stuff!"
Romance Around the Corner - "I read this short novella in one sitting, and when I was done, I went back and read it again."

Comments

  1. I'm so glad you've become a fan of Ruthie Knox! Her writing style is really appealing and while I've only read her novella from earlier this year, I think it really shines in the shorter format, which is not the case of many authors at all.

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    1. It's so true. And I'm sort of amazed and delighted to have run across a couple of authors in the past few months that truly excel in the shorter format. This is definitely my favorite of Knox's books!

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  2. Good grief! A book that makes your teeth hurt! That's some story! You hooked me! I gotta try it.

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    1. I can't help it. It really did. I really hope you like it, Lin. I can't tell how personal my feelings for it are, but I hope it resonates for other readers, too.

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  3. I've never heard of Ruthie Knox, but I think I'm going to have to pick this novella up. You've sold me.

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    1. It's my favorite of hers for sure. She writes fun, intimate romances and I'm really happy to have discovered her this year. This one's something special, IMO.

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  4. Okay, I bit. Novella purchased.

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    1. Eeee! Let me know what you think!

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  5. How are the smexy scenes? Would I like this, because I really want to!

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    1. They're definitely there, since anonymous encounters are kind of what these two are looking for initially. But they're skimmable, IMO, and they stop when Mandy realizes she wants more. They are also absolutely outshone by the heart of the story, which is what had an absolute stranglehold on my emotions.

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  6. Novellas have always just vaguely floated around by their lonesomes in the back of my mind, as I can never attribute the format to anything that I've fallen really hard for. But boy, you are REALLY tempting me with this excellent-sounding one! The synopsis sounds a little bit like the one for Megan Hart's Broken--about not being your real self for one night, and rather being anything you want to be. Thanks for slapping this onto my radar!

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    1. I haven't fallen for a novella either until Milan's The Governess Affair and then THIS ONE. Broken wasn't on my radar, I'll have to go take a peek. I hope you try this one at some point, Steph.

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  7. Angie, you are so bad for my pitiful bank account.

    Thank you.

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    1. Always here for you, ALady!

      Please tell me if you do read this one. I love it so.

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  8. I often thing that short stand-alone stories don't really work in the romance genre because you, particularly when there is not already an existing relationship between the hero and the heroine. How can there be enough time to build the relationship, have the conflict, sexy times and a resolution all in the space of 66 pages?

    Well, if you are Ruthie Knox, you can do all of those things and more!

    I'm with you! Loved, loved this story.

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    1. That has been my feeling as well, Marg. In my relatively recent time with the genre. But, wow, can she do it! She completely killed it with Big Boy. My WORD, what a story. So happy to hear you felt the same.

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  9. I really can't resist any of the titles that you feature as bibliocrack, Angie. I must have them the moment I finish reading your review! This one looks so good.

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    1. Hehe. Guess that's the point, huh? They're the ones I just can't resist gushing about. They're often ones that take me completely by surprise as well! I hope you like it. It's definitely a romance, but wow does the interpersonal "heart" of it sing.

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    2. I guess you already saw on Instagram that I grabbed a copy of this last night. I'll try to read it soon! Maybe after I finish The Girl of Fire and Thorns for the next YAckers discussion.

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    3. I did! Put a big old grin on my face.

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  10. Sounds awesome, I will buy. I'm kind of curious how the hot guys on a train tumblr turned into a story too. :)

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    1. Right? I just sort of love that the whole endeavor happened at all. Seriously, though. You must let me know what you think! I'm still all giddy.

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  11. *Bought*

    BTW sorry for the comment vomit. I'm catching up after being in my Curran cocoon for the past week. :)

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    1. Woot!

      I welcome comment vomit. Particularly when a Curran cocoon is the excuse given.

      Um, that's kind of a lovely image, btw. Curran cocoon. Mmmm.

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