This debut novel about two close childhood pals trying to maintain a friendship as their adult paths gradually diverge has an amiable familiarity.
Lauren and Sarah have been BFFs since sixth grade, when Lauren, an 11-year-old from a middle-class New Jersey family, snagged a scholarship to a fancy private school in Manhattan and was immediately befriended by popular Sarah, her ambassador to the world of the wealthy. Sarah is rich. Lauren is pretty. Sarah volunteers for worthy projects and works part time in a charity thrift store, goes to the gym, lunches with friends, has Sunday night dinner with her conservative political adviser father and her mother, a retired singer of moderate renown, in their large, eclectically elegant home. Lauren lives in a tiny yet stylish Brooklyn apartment and ekes out a modest living in book publishing, slowly climbing the editorial ladder and, for a while anyway, bedding the temp. Sarah lives in a Manhattan two-bedroom with a foyer, a separate kitchen and ample closet space (ah, fiction) and is busily planning her wedding to her doctor fiance—trying on dresses, sampling slices of cake. Lauren, her maid of honor, is uninterested in committing to a romantic relationship and not above a casual tryst with, say, a waiter at a resort hotel during Sarah’s pre-wedding girlfriend getaway. These women still understand each other in a way no one else may, but they’ve drifted apart since the days of middle school sleepovers, high school and college parties, and a stint as post-college roomies. “Things change, in life—of course they do,” Alam writes, of Sarah’s perspective. “People grow up, become interested in new things, new people. Our way of being in the world is probably a lot less fixed than most people think. But Lauren is a part of her world, and she’s a part of Lauren’s.” Lauren, though, wonders if her friendship with Sarah has survived solely by “force of habit.” Although Alam seems to have no deep new insight to share and his story is thin on plot, his characters are real and rounded enough to escape being entirely cliché, and he displays a robust understanding of and affection for the nuances of female friendships as they evolve over time.
Alam captures something truthful and essential about the push-pull of friendship—the desire for closeness as well as the space to define ourselves—and admirably resists the urge to look down on his characters.