The latest novel from Vassallo (Henry Maxwell’s Gift, 2008, etc.) explores the lives and relationships of nine friends in a close-knit South Carolina book club.
For at least the last 15 years, a group of friends has met regularly for their book club. The only problem is that none of them ever read the same book, and some don’t even read one at all. Instead, the club has endured as a social nucleus—a reason to eat, drink, and be merry, and perhaps share an idea or two along the way. The group’s leader, Jackie Bennett, a lover of literature and gardening, often acts as confessor to the other members, such as Mattie Anthony, who worries that budget cuts may threaten her job as a local middle school teacher. Fellow member Sandy Chapel, a seemingly perfect wife and mother of four, has been skipping meetings altogether, and Lena Green has been so preoccupied with her own issues that she hardly participates at all. However, their problems are quickly overshadowed when member Becka Ariel gets new neighbors—a husband and wife who share their home with a dangerous-looking man. After someone attacks a local elderly woman, the town goes on high alert, but Becka discovers that not all is as it seems. Vassallo successfully conveys the congenial, relaxed atmosphere among the friends and carefully explores her characters’ lives outside the club. However, the large cast adds a level of intricacy that may confound some readers. The story’s topics, such as unfaithfulness, divorce, aging and romance, aren’t simplistic, but none is explored in depth. Many characters lack dimension as well; most are simply, thoroughly good, such as “Jackie, with her nurturing nature and loving heart.” Similarly, the antagonists don’t possess redeeming qualities that might have added more complexity. However, readers seeking a relaxing, uncomplicated respite will certainly be rewarded.
An amiable, easygoing novel of friendship.