How sisterhood has flourished throughout history.
While male friendships have been “extolled…as the noblest form of human attachment,” women’s bonds, cultural historian Yalom (How the French Invented Love, 2012, etc.) and Brown assert, have been overlooked and even disparaged. Aiming to rectify this slight, the authors chronicle abundant evidence of women’s friendships, focusing on communities (nuns, for example, quilting circles, and the Lowell, Massachusetts, factory girls) and particular pairings: the “loving friendship” between German mystic Hildegard von Bingen and her disciple Richardis von Stade; Teresa of Avila and her sister Carmelite Ana de San Bartolomé; Mme. de Sévigné and Mme. de La Fayette, 17th-century French salonnieres; American patriots Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren; memoirist Mme. Roland and Sophie Grandchamp, who described their relationship as “a mutual rapture of the soul”; reformers Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, who co-founded Hull House; and many others. Yalom and Brown examine bonds forged at college, among working women, between feminist activists, and the comradeship, as they put it, among divorced women. The authors wear their scholarship lightly, creating a lively narrative. Unfortunately, their enthusiasm leads them to make extravagant, unfounded claims: friendships formed “during political upheaval and war,” they conclude, “are among the strongest experienced by humankind.” Women’s friendships, characterized by affection, self-revelation, physical contact, and interdependence, can change the world: the “power, and often the wisdom, of what women seek and find in friendship could lead future generations into lives of dignity, hope, and peaceful coexistence.” Women, the authors insist, “will continue to show the world how to be friends” and help to create “a world in which the strengths of the friendly sex imbue society with greater concern for the well-being of every person.”
Such unsupportable assertions, heartfelt though they may be, undermine the authors’ considerable research.
Brown (The Social Sex, 2015, etc.) offers a thrilling crime novel about a real estate agent trying to sell an inn that’s surrounded by conflict, intrigue, and murder.
Sara McGrath is a divorced mother of a 16-year-old daughter and struggling as a real estate agent. She’s about to get her big break from the sale of the titular hotel at Punta de Sangre (on the San Mateo County, California, coast) to the exuberant, wealthy Randi Wight. Brown wastes no time diving into the crime that drives this story: it opens on Sara traipsing along the beach, collecting seaweed, when she comes upon the washed-up, mangled body of a young man. He turns out to be the son of Lt. Mike Mitchell, a police officer to whom Sara is attracted, and who reappears during moments when she needs him. However, the deaths don’t stop there. Soon, Sherwood Brooks, a researcher who gives Sara tips on properties, winds up dead on the train tracks. It looks like a suicide, but upon further inspection, it turns out that Brooks was strangled. The story gets even more complicated when a developer shows interest in the land. Sara’s good friend Faye, meanwhile, is an active, vocal member of Coastal Open Space Trust, an organization aimed at preserving area wildlife. COST, it turns out, is strangely connected to the inn, and quickly comes under threat. Someone wants Sara and her friends to stay away—but who? Brown not only develops several engaging characters and a riveting plotline, she also shows expertise at describing settings. The vivid geography of the coast (with its “frothy surf, stark white against the gray ocean”) transports readers into Brown’s richly imagined world. The protagonist, Sara, is complex, flawed, and genuine, and readers will hope that Brown will revisit the character in future novels. Several other players also become entangled in this tale—including a competing real estate agent; the current owner of the inn and his cancer-stricken wife; and Sara’s arrogant ex-husband—and all have back stories worth uncovering.
A satisfying crime read with a memorable heroine.