The latest of Donald Harington's Stay More novels, With, attempts to create a mythical world in which a young girl of eight can grow up safely without any other people in the innocence of the natural world that surrounds her. The eighteen-year-old nature goddess who emerges from these years is then ripe and ready for the middle-aged man who returns to his family's abandoned homestead to find in her true love.
No matter how clever this novel becomes (and it is shameless in the chances it takes), it is telling the same old sad story that Hollywood has been filming for decades: The young, beautiful girl and the older, experienced man find in each other a match made in heaven—or, perhaps, the typical fantasy of middle-aged men, dressed up in fancy to make it palatable.
The first chapter of With starts out trying to hoodwink the reader. Knowing, as the author must, that almost every reader will have seen at least the cover blurb and have an idea of the book's plot, he opens with a third-person narrative of a female who has been beaten and abused by a man who took her away from her mother. For several pages, the author lures the reader into believing that this is Robin Kerr's experience, until mounting details reveal that the female is a dog. Hreapha, as she calls herself, is the dog of Robin's kidnapper, who thinks and “speaks” in a fairly sophisticated voice—not a human voice, but every “hreapha!” she utters is freighted with meaning, which she conveys to the reader. She also “speaks” to other dogs, some of which “speak” back in uneducated, country diction.
Hreapha's tale begins in the midst of Sugrue (Sog) Alan's preparations to steal a young girl and retreat into a hermitlike existence with her. Sog has come into the possession of nearly a half million dollars in drug money cash while making a traffic stop on a lonely highway, and this becomes his stake to realize his ultimate fantasy. No longer will he have to depend on leafing through his worn copy of Nudist Moppets, although he takes it along anyway. He stocks a long-deserted homestead on top of Madewell Mountain with all manner of supplies, trusting to the abilities of himself and his purloined “bride” to make a living from the land once they run out.
Ensuing chapters alternate between various characters’ points of view. Most of the time, these are presented as third-person narratives, with occasional chapters told in first-person voice. Often the tales overlap, presenting the story from two or more sides. Each character speaks in a unique voice, and Harington does a good job both of finding a character's voice and determining who will provide the best focus for each particular point in the story.
Robin becomes Sog's victim by chance. He sees her in the parking lot, waiting by her mother's car. He cannot abduct her then, but he reacts physically to her blond beauty and decides that she is the girl he will take away with him. After being thwarted once by Robin's stepgrandfather, Sog manages to steal Robin away from a birthday party at a roller-skating rink.
The abduction itself is where Harington begins to have trouble with his plot. So that Sog can snatch Robin without being seen, Harington invents a ludicrous, open balcony that extends from the skating rink floor out above the alleyway, with the floor at eye level and convenient for Sog to grab the girl, who comes out alone to cool off. The obvious access such a structure would give to people trying to sneak into the skating rink is ignored; no guard has been posted to prevent this. By this time, alert readers realize that Harington does not hesitate to manipulate facts and events to make his story work in the way that he wants.
This young girl has been abducted by a pedophile and taken away where no one will find her. Because the author plans for Robin to remain virginal until she is grown, he must introduce reasons for Sog not to fall upon and ravish the girl as soon as he has her alone. At first, Sog is tired from the long, harrowing hike from his truck to the homestead. He wants to give Robin a chance to calm down and accept her situation. Such a reprobate, however, could not control himself for long, and so Harington has Sog's health deteriorate, with impotency as the first symptom. It appears that his only purpose was to get Robin up to the mountain and to start her in her new life. Sog remains alive long enough to teach Robin many of the “old-time” ways of living, but his health has declined too much to teach her all she needs to know. He even loses the power of coherent speech.
Conveniently, another character appears who can give Robin advice based on experience. Harington has created a new kind of ghost: the spirit of someone still living. He calls this an “in-habit” because the spirit inhabits the place where the person who left it was most happy. The in-habit residing at Madewell Mountain is that of Adam...
(The entire section is 2016 words.)