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 Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets anthology. Kay lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband and three children.
“Monsters is an addictive read: a page-turner that is at once dark and uplifting, shocking and hopeful. Liz Kay's book takes a sharp spin on the notion of fairy tale romance, arguing that love comes not through our best sides, but our worst. It’s all about confronting the demons within.”
“Stacey, the narrator of Monsters: A Love Story, is a feminist poet in Hollywood—you got to love her for that alone. But you also love her because she’s sharp, tough, and honest. 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.”
“At the beginning of the novel Stacey is in darkness. But it’s a sad reality that turns magically around. Inspiring for women everywhere.”
Let me make this clear: I’ve never reviewed a book before. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve reviewed hundreds of books. I’ve reviewed them in my head while I read them. I’ve reviewed them, most hastily and judgmentally, the moment I read the last line, unfairly comparing them to the first book I ever loved – Voltaire’s Candide and its last line, “We must cultivate our garden,” which is a really shitty thing to do, right, because it’s Voltaire and it’s Candide.
It’s just uncool to compare last lines of every book I read to the last line of Candide, a classic, sarcastically brilliant book that has the ability to mess with your head for decades to come, change meaning as you grow older, and keep you thinking about how you might live with just one butt cheek.
I do realize, however, that it wasn’t the last line of Candide that I really loved; it was the last line of a book made of up of thousands of lines that moved perfectly toward that last line. If Voltaire hadn’t written thousands of great sentences that made a wonderful book up to that last line, it would have been a bad book, even if the last line was freaking perfect.
At first, I was angry with the protagonist and the author.
In her debut novel, Liz Kay sends a widowed, Nebraskan poet into the arms of a big-time Hollywood movie star via a movie adaptation of the poet’s novel in verse about a female Frankenstein’s creature.
The poet had recently lost her husband, and before fully dealing with the grief, she is volleyed between the lavish lifestyle of Hollywood and the day-to-day living of her Nebraskan home with her children who, very understandably, are lost. First, their father died, and right after that, their mother enters into a relationship with a Hollywood playboy. (Did I just use the word playboy?)
Kay writes monsters well. She writes them really well. The two main characters in the book, Stacey the poet and Tommy the playboy (again?), can be complete assholes, especially to each other (and to others). But they’re not the only monsters in the book, and Kay writes these little assholes just as well as she writes the big ones. The author uses dialogue to pinpoint the little things that people say in everyday life that are just nasty, but they get away with it.
Monsters delves precisely into the intricacies of human behavior, examining how awful people can really be to each other on a day-to-day basis by only using two or three words to do so.
Throughout the book, I found myself underlining truisms in speech, the places where the tiniest words could inflict the deepest pain, where loved ones who know the protagonist, Stacy, use their knowledge to dig little needles into her eyeballs.
Kay is an expert at portraying the human experience, as we all sadly know it.
But I was still angry with her at the end. When I closed the book, I grumbled aloud for two full days, digesting the ending that Kay had given me in the world that she created, a mashup between a middle American small-world view and the heavy drinking, stab-you-in-the-back Hollywood, and after another full day of thinking about it, the anger started to leave me.
I had to admit to myself that even though I didn’t want the ending that I was given, it was the only possible ending for the Monsters that Kay had written. It wouldn’t have been true to the people I had followed for hundreds of pages and thousands of sentences to get to the last line.
If the last line were different, the whole book with all of its precise, snarky, mean, and genuine dialogue that honestly showed the human experience would have fallen apart. The characters did what they had to do because Kay had written such a cohesive world that they could do nothing else without falling into being disingenuous.
And you know me; I judge everything by the last line (and every other line that leads up to it).