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The Best of Us: A Novel Paperback – April 9, 2013
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Guest Review of “Best of Us”
By Jennifer Weiner
Old college friends, reuniting to celebrate a birthday of the geeky guy down the hall who’s now a billionaire. A gorgeous villa in a tropical paradise. A weekend getaway where the private jet whisks you off to the private beach, and a private chef prepares gourmet feasts. Add a trunk-load of secrets, old resentments, clandestine kisses – not to mention enough booze to float a cruise ship – and you’ve got the ingredients for a beach read with humor and heart.
Fifteen years ago, Tina, Allie and Savannah were friends at the University of Virginia, and Dwight Glass, “thin and awkward as a praying mantis,” was their brainy, socially awkward friend.
Now Dwight’s made a fortune from the dot-com he founded, is married to pretty Pauline, who does volunteer work and has turned trying to get pregnant into a full-time job. Tina Antonelli is a stay-at-home mom, happily married, if a little overwhelmed by the mechanics of managing four children: “the enormous jumble of dirty laundry on the basement floor, the egg-encrusted dishes littering the kitchen sink, the new stain on the rug, which already resembled a Rorschach test.” Allie Reed, Tina’s best friend from college, a girl who read to the blind, “loaned out her class notes to anyone who asked…smiled at everyone she passed on the street,” and dragged Dwight into some semblance of a social life, is a social worker. She works part-time, enjoys her two daughters…and if she and her architect husband “had sex a bit less often these days, if all of their activities seemed to revolve around the girls – well, wasn’t that to be expected when you had young kids?”
Savannah McGrivey, a glamorous real-estate agent with a gym-toned body and a flashy wardrobe, has it all – except for a husband. After putting Gary through medical school, he’s dumped her for a nurse. “She’d been so proud when he could officially add the initials M.D. after his name, feeling as though it was their shared triumph. How ironic that an anesthesiologist had caused her the most pain she’d ever felt in her entire life.” When an Internet date goes disastrously bad, Savannah decides to join her friends and their spouses in Jamaica, without telling them that Gary’s jumped ship.
These women might have been cardboard-thin clichés – the burdened mother, the good girl, the cougar, the trophy wife. But with Pekkanen’s sharp eye for detail, and her generosity toward her flawed-but-trying cast of characters, the ladies of The Best of Us emerge as full-bodied and believable, with more dimensions than you’d expect. Pauline’s arc, in particular, is surprising and heartbreaking, as Pekkanen peels back the layers to show why social-climbing Pauline is so obsessed with security, financial and otherwise, and to show us the depths of Dwight’s love. The dialogue will ring true to any reader who’s ever wondered about the road not taken, or found herself in the breakdown lane of the road she did take. “Want to know the first thought that pops into my mind almost every morning after opening my eyes?” Tina asks. “I start anticipating being able to go to bed at night. I’m just so tired all the time.
You won’t always like the women – Tina can be a martyr, Savannah can be a handful, and Pauline’s high-handed tone with her staff will grate on anyone who’s ever toiled in the service sector – but watching them reveal their true selves during a long weekend in Paradise is a wonderful escape, and a chance to vacation vicariously. You may not spend your spring break flying in a private jet, or get a chance to vacation with your BFFs in a posh villa that sits on a bluff overlooking a white-sand beach, enjoying jaunts on helicopters or a chartered catamaran (or, in Savannah’s case, the attention of the catamaran’s hunky first mate)…but The Best of Us is surely the next best thing.
When a group of college friends is invited on a lavish Jamaican vacation to celebrate the thirty-fifth birthday of their classmate, Dwight, the women find they can’t escape their everyday problems. Dwight’s wife, Pauline, thinks that by giving her husband and his friends the time of their lives, she can distract him from the family secret that’s behind her reluctance to have a baby. Dwight’s friend Allie is waiting to hear if she has a hereditary illness that could tear apart her family, and she turns to Dwight instead of her husband for comfort. Allie’s best friend, Tina, a harried mother of four, needs the break to reconnect with her husband and with her identity outside of her family, while their former dorm mate Savannah is there to forget her husband’s infidelity. Alcohol-fueled evenings and a hurricane threat bring emotions to a head in this novel about honesty, relationships, and the realities of being a woman and an adult. --Aleksandra Walker
Top customer reviews
All of the story takes place in the 1 week they are at this vacation home, with emotional dramas unfolding and shifting between them day by day. The narrative rotates between characters from chapter to chapter. There isn't any other plot besides the events of this week, so if you don't like books that focus on emotional journeys, then this one isn't for you. I found the characters satisfying enough, although because it rotates between them, we don't get to know any of them too well. The vacation setup seemed a little farfetched, and their misunderstandings sometimes felt like clumsy plot devices, but in the end most of their journeys had an authentic resonance to them. I didn't 5-star love it, but it certainly was a good read.
I think my dislike of the characters' flaws proves that the author succeeded. After being unsure that I was going to like the book, the characters faced reality and examined their respective marriages. While some reviewers did not like all of the endings, I think the stories illustrate reality. I am not going to be a spoiler.
This book reminds me of the movie The Story of Us. I don't recommend reading it if you are in a bad relationship because it might make you stay in it. However, if you are in a good relationship, it might make you more appreciative.
Here's what I liked:
- Great premise: a group of old college friends invited on an extravagant all-expense-paid trip to Jamaica by the "nerd" of the group who grew up to be a big success. This sounds simply delicious and it is, for the most part.
- Loved the descriptions of the setting and the sumptuous lifestyle this group gets exposed to, including a sunset helicopter ride, massages and pedicures on the beach, gourmet dinners, and a beautiful waterfront house with every amenity you can imagine and then a few more.
- Good believable dialogue between the characters, and plenty of movement in the plot (no slow lags).
- Good ending/well done.
The problems with the book that kept it from being a 5 star for me:
- I had a very hard time liking the most of the characters until the very end of the book, when they all turned around and became better people/showed a better side of themselves (well, except from Dwight, who got worse in my opinion. Oh, and Pauline and Gary didn't improve by much either). During the bad part, each person was acting like a jerk and there wasn't a good reason for being such big jerks, nor were there good reasons revealed at a later time for their bad behavior. Allie in particular was a character that I had a hard time believing. This was the part that I had to force myself to keep reading. I'm glad I did, though (see good stuff above).
- The writing itself is very basic. I read, partly, for the pleasure of language. Someone who is brilliant, say Pat Conroy, is a joy to read. This author's writing is functional - telling the story - but that's it.
- The characters were less than well fleshed out. Many things were left unexplained about their behavior.
Generally, I would recommend this to someone who wants a light and fun read, but not to anyone who's looking for deeper characterizations or anyone who insists on a brilliant writing style/literature.
I found the book okay, but was only really attached to a few of the characters. I thought Tina and Savannah were easy characters to get into and I enjoyed their stories. Even though all of the characters follow typical tropes, those two to me seemed to have the most individuality. The others I found myself skimming the stories as they just didn't really grip me. It also seemed as if the group really didn't work together and the magic that develops within a college group didn't really exist within these group of friends. It felt more like four couples randomly uniting on a trip than four old friends on a reunion.
I've enjoyed other of the author's novels much more than this one, but still thought this one to be mildly interesting.
This book is one of my favorites as it provides a beautiful Jamaican holiday as a backdrop to the story--fun to read during these long winter months! I'll leave the rest for you to find out, but I highly recommend:)
Most recent customer reviews
Author: Sarah Pekkanen
Topic: Trouble in Paradise….
But didn’t all marriages carry thousands of hurts?Read more