Tag Archives: Best Friends Forever

Suburban Dreams

Commuters by Emily Gray Tedrowe (Harper Perennial; June 29, 2010)

This is the first novel by Emily Gray Tedrowe and it may gain her admission into the club of today’s best women writers.   At one point in Commuters, a character goes on vacation and takes with her “a satisfyingly quiet Anne Tyler novel.”   Anne Tyler, Anna Quindlen, and Jennifer Weiner are just three of the popular authors whose influence can be observed in Commuters.

Commuters deals with the lives of individuals who, while they live in a quiet one-square-mile suburb, are only a train ride away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.   It is also about the way people’s lives change – sometimes instantly – when their partners and family members experience tragedy or opportunity.

The story begins with the marriage of seventy-eight-year-old Winnie Easton to Jerry Travis, a wealthy businessman from Chicago.   Winnie and Jerry (a widow and widower) had met once while both were in their twenties attending a wedding, and now each is taking a chance on this late in life pairing.   For Winnie, the act of getting married to Jerry may be her first taste of true freedom:  “She had married once because it was a good match, mostly for her parents and his…  But now she found herself about to do something that felt like the first thing she’d ever done on her own…  She was marrying a man for the delicious and wicked and simple reason that she wanted to.”

Winnie and Jerry’s children, grandchildren, and in-laws all, of course, have their own strong opinions about the wisdom of their joining together for better or worse.   In Commuters, the story is told from Winnie’s viewpoint; from that of her distracted and tired daughter Rachel (whose one-time lawyer husband has recovered from a serious accident); from the perspective of her angry daughter-in-law Annette, who views Winnie as an opportunistic gold-digger; and from the perspective of Avery, Jerry’s troubled grandson.

Each of these individuals has hopes and dreams – Avery for example wants to be the owner-chef of his own restaurant in Brooklyn – which may rely, in part, on securing some of Jerry’s fortune via inheritance.   Winnie becomes a wild card thrown into the game that forces everyone to scramble and re-evaluate their positions vis-a-vis Jerry.   The well-planned timetables for getting on Jerry’s good side are now thrown out of whack; even more so when Annette elects to sue her father for the control of his business and Jerry’s mental and physical health begins to fade.

Tedrowe does a remarkable job of telling this story from four different perspectives.   All sound like true voices and a wrong note is never heard.   The author incorporates a couple of sex scenes in a way that is subtle, unlike so many of today’s popular fiction writers who drop in such scenes in an attempt to enliven boring narratives.

Each of the narrators in Commuters encounters either unexpected opportunity or tragedy, regardless of their age, maturity or economic standing in life.   This novel informs us that dealing with family and dealing with money are two equal challenges.   And then there’s the matter of love, which does always win in the end.

Commuters also tells us that we’re seeing the emergence of a great new talent in Tedrowe.   Let us hope that she keeps up her craft.   If so, her name may one day be mentioned alongside that of another highly gifted writer, Anne Lamott.

Highly recommended.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Shameless

Bunco Babes Gone Wild by Maria Geraci   Berkley Trade, $14.00, 316 pages

Bunco Babes comes disguised as a Jennifer Weiner-like chick-lit novel.   Like Weiner’s Best Friends Forever, it starts off jerky and disjointed before changing gears and offering the promise of a good story.   But in Babes this preface is just a façade, as the story degrades into a sex romp with characters having sex in near-public places.   The story is supposedly about Georgia, whose divorced boss/boyfriend does not want to commit to her so she runs off to Florida to lick her wounds – among other things – at her sister’s house.   There she runs into a Latin hunk (“Mr. Hunky” to her and her sister’s friends), whose chest muscles are always heaving.

Eventually Georgia begins to forget her ex-employer as she has sex in an exhibit hall closet with Mr. Hunky while hundreds of guests attend a major function at the junction.   Author Geraci supposedly warrants a pat on the back for ensuring that her Mr. Hunky uses a condom while jumping on Georgia; he’s a so-called “safe driver.”

Our mothers and aunts read racy novels like those written by Harold Robbins.   The Carpetbaggers or A Stone for Danny Fisher would be considered to be of National Book Award quality when compared to the ultra-trashy Babes.

Reprinted courtesy of San Francisco Book Review.

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Arc of a Diver

girl-who-stopped-swimming

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming: A Novel by Joshilyn Jackson (Grand Central Publishing, $13.99, 336 pages)

“Her good life was a thing made up…  almost by accident…  If she’d left pieces out, then she’d done it for her family.   She’d only been buttoning shut the ugly parts.   The things she’d buried were better left that way.”

If you like Jennifer Weiner (Best Friends Forever, In Her Shoes) you’re bound to love this popular fiction novel from Joshilyn Jackson (Girls in Alabama; Between, Georgia).   Like Weiner, Jackson has a great, charming, story teller’s voice that you underestimate before realizing how skillfully she moves things along.   In The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, Jackson moves swiftly between comedy and drama, happiness and sorrow, confusion and clarity.   And like Weiner, she populates this novel with great characters of the South – intelligent and naive, wacky and brilliant.

The story’s main character, Laurel Gray Hawthorne, lives in the beautiful and exclusive – and clean and quiet – suburb of Victorianna.   Then one night she wakes up to see her daughter’s best friend Molly, appearing to her as a ghost.   Molly’s dead body is subsequently found in Laurel’s backyard swimming pool.

The local police initially write off the suspicious death as an accident, but Laurel is determined to solve the crime with the aid of her very frank and abrasive sister, Thalia.   It’s not clear whether Laurel is trying to solve the criminal mystery to appease Molly’s ghost, to protect her daughter Shelby, or to resolve matters with the family ghosts she observed as a child.   But once Laurel opens the door on the events of the fateful night, everything in her life comes into play…

Does she really know who she is?   Does her husband love her?   Does she know her own daughter?   The neighbors?   Is her community safe?  

Further details will be left to prospective readers.   This is, without a doubt, a fascinating read.   “Left me breathless…  You must read this book!”   – Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants.   Agreed.   I will now be looking for a copy of Gods in Alabama.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

the girl who“She’d tried to create an airtight home that ghosts could not enter, but they’d come in anyway, through the secret spaces, through the blanks she’d left in all the things she left unsaid…”

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the girl who (sm.)A review of the novel The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson.

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Best Friends Forever: A Novel

Best Friends Forever 4 (audio)Jennifer Weiner is not your typical writer of popular fiction.   Her slow and dry style causes one to under-estimate her before she starts effortlessly shifting through the gears like an F1 (Formula One) driver.   The more you read, the more fun and humor she adds to the telling, making the second half of Best Friends Forever seem much shorter than the first half.

The reader also has fun because we realize that we know these people in real life…   The fun-loving and popular Val, the down-on-herself Addie (whom others trust and believe in more than she believes in herself), the punkish and mean Dan Swansea, responsible Jordan Novick…   All are as real as the people we went to high school or college with.

I didn’t think I’d say about this about 100 pages into Best Friends Forever, but I can say it now.   Count me in as a member of Jennifer Weiner’s fan club!

Thanks to Atria Books for the review copy.

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Best Friends Forever

This one was quite a surprise…   It started off painfully and ended up as a joy ride!

As the story starts a young woman, Valerie, attends her class of ’92 high school re-union and seeks revenge for something that happened to her in the Fall of 1991.   She gets her revenge – in a violent and disturbing way – then heads out to find her former (much less popular in high school) friend Addie Downs.

For the first quarter of this 359-page story I did not think that I’d be able to finish it.   The content was a bit disturbing and the characters were not likeable.   Then, at some point, we began to focus on the uniquely wacky My Fox Chicago News Team weather girl Valerie Adler.   That’s when the real fun begins.   We also get to know and identify with the true main character Addie Downs, a woman who at one time was easily two or three times her current weight.Best Friends Forever 5

The two friends, knowing that Val is a likely crime suspect, take off together from the small town of Pleasant Ridge, Illinois south toward Key Largo, Florida.   At some point, it dawns on the reader that they’re on a journey for the things they need in life.   Val needs respect (“You know what the average age of a My Fox viewer is?   Dead.”) and Addie needs the male life-partner that she’s never found.

Add to the mix a young and broken-hearted police chief (Jordan Novick) who sets out to find the women on their run from the law, and several former misfits from the old high school – some of whom may be seeking forgiveness and redemption.   It all adds up to a recipe for a rollicking good ride down the highway of life.

To be continued… (part one of two parts)

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Best Friends ForeverA review of Best Friends Forever: A Novel by Jennifer Weiner.

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