If we’re lucky, we get that one life-changing friendship. For some, it happens in childhood; for others, it occurs in the college years, when self-discovery is paramount. There are even those who find that connection later in life when they need it the most. Friendships like these are deep, but that means they can be volatile and even destructive. These friendships in this week’s book club aren’t all sunshine and roses, and they don’t follow traditional paths, but they’re instrumental in shaping the women who share them.
1. Remind Me Again What Happened by Joanna Luloff ($27): Claire and her best friend Rachel are closer to sisters than friends, and Claire’s husband Charlie completes the triad. They have a bit of a strange history: Rachel and Charlie were involved in undergrad, and moved to be together in Boston for grad school. Claire was a new and fast friend. Things crumbled for Rachel; her parents died in a car accident, she gets pregnant and decides she doesn’t want the baby or to tell Charlie about it, and eventually, their relationship falls apart. Through it all, Claire takes care of both Rachel and Charlie, all three living together in Rachel’s childhood home. She serves as a sounding board for Rachel’s grief, and when Rachel decides to end things with Charlie, Claire dates and then marries him. You’d think this would be a recipe for a soap opera, but instead, things seem to work.
After Claire and Charlie move to Vermont for Charlie’s job, Claire goes to India for six months as a journalist and contracts Japanese encephalitis from a mosquito bite. Waking up in a Florida hospital and disoriented, she’s missing years off her memory, which she calls “a smudge.” Not knowing why Claire’s turned up in Florida, Rachel and Charlie show up to take care of her in return, bringing her home to piles of photographs and documents gathered to try to kick-start her brain into remembering what has been lost.
“I had asked Charlie to call her. I needed my best friend, and I wanted an ally. It’s funny what stays and what goes in a malfunctioning brain. I still had — have — my instincts… She is a better friend than I probably deserve.” Told through alternating perspectives, the mystery and the secrets between the three friends are finally revealed. Charlie struggles to deal with the combination of love and revulsion he feels for his changed wife. Rachel remains steadfast, but how much of her past and identity, seen through others, can Claire really trust? Perhaps the situation is more explosive than she thought.
2. The Secrets Between Us by Thrity Umrigar ($28): Bhina, a servant in the Dubash household, considers her employers to be like family; Serabai Dubash’s daughter Dinaz treats her like an aunt, which is great luck in a strict class-based system. Her granddaughter Maya is the only real family she has left, after a lifetime of bitterness from her own relatives: “the torturous deaths of her son-in-law and her daughter, Pooja, to AIDS; on the day when her Gopal left her that life-altering letter before absconding with their son, Amit; and the time before that when Gopal’s foreman had made her sign a piece of paper that cleaved their family in two.” However, “like” family is the operative word, and when Dinaz’s husband impregnates Maya and then suggests an abortion, he’d rather save face by accusing her of stealing money. Bhina’s pride forces her to refuse to return, though she’s at a loss over how she will provide for Maya’s college education.
When Dinaz, in the dark about her husband’s actions, shows up with the tidy sum the Dubashes have been saving away for Bhina plus a bit more, Bhina sees a chance for her granddaughter. Things change further when she meets Parvati, “the daughter of a man who sold her for less than the price of a cow. And in doing so, taught her what she was worth…At her age, time has stopped flowing in a linear fashion; rather, it ebbs and swirls, creating a whirlpool at its center that on most days swallows her whole. Her yesterdays have lost their bite; it is her todays that come bearing down with fangs and claws that she has to watch out for.” Parvati, desperately poor, spends her days selling cauliflower heads that would otherwise be thrown out to equally poor customers.
The two women have no particular love lost for each other at first, as neither have a reason to trust again. However, after deciding to form a business partnership, they learn each other’s secrets and truths. Growing closer, they realize how much they have in common and how they can support each other in a world that seems to have abandoned them both. A sequel to Umrigar’s The Space Between Us, this is a novel about class and survival in a modernizing India, but also about the power of a true female friendship.
3. The Summer List by Amy Mason Doan ($17): “Casey Katherine Shepherd. I hadn’t seen her since we were eighteen. When I ran into people from Coeur-de-Lune they inevitably asked me about Casey, and I always said, ‘We drifted.’ They would nod, as if this was the most natural thing in the world. People drifted. In my case it’d be more accurate to say I’d swum away. As fast as I could, trying my hardest not to look back. I slid the card into its torn pink envelope and turned it over again, my thumb smoothing the top edge of the sticker, where it had curled up slightly. I promise it will be ok, she’d written. (35 – how did it happen?)”
In the mid-‘90s, teenaged Laura Christie found a new, exciting family: Casey and her young mom Alex, an artist, move in across the lake to a house everyone in their sleepy little town calls The Shipwreck. Laura’s adoptive parents were deeply religious, which had led to an extremely restrictive life and no end to bullying. To the disapproval of her parents, Laura becomes best of friends with Casey, whose mother imposes no restrictions and even gets involved in her daughter’s flights of fancy, helping to create wild scavenger hunts for the inseparable twosome. When Casey seemingly betrays Laura, however, Laura leaves and doesn’t look back — until the reunion invitation shows up in her mailbox.
It turns out that Alex and Laura’s ex-boyfriend, J.B., have set up one more scavenger hunt for the girls, to help them try to rediscover their friendship. But there are still a number of secrets left to find, alongside old hangouts and items. These secrets include the matter of Laura’s birth parents, as well as the relationship between Laura and Casey’s mothers, who were better friends and had wilder previous lives than either of their daughters imagined. It seems that even the most broken friendship can be preserved, through years, or even generations.
What books are your best friends? Tag us in your next life-defining read @BritandCo.
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