BEST FRIENDS

THE PLEASURES AND PERILS OF GIRLS' AND WOMEN'S FRIENDSHIPS

You wouldn’t wish the best friends described by these psychotherapists on your worst enemy. To give them credit, Apter (currently a fellow at Cambridge Univ.; Secret Paths, 1995, etc.) and Josselson (Psychology/Towson State Univ.; Revising Herself, 1996), both experts in women’s psychology, set out to add perspective to the recent spate of books and movies celebrating women’s friendships. They seek a context “that neither idealizes . . . nor denigrates” such relationships. Girls and women can form rewarding and enduring connections, the authors say, but those relationships can also be hurtful and damaging. They discount recent research attributing preadolescent girls’ diminishing self-esteem to societal pressure and suggest instead that “the worst anguish . . . is learned in the neglected but indelible doings with girlfriends.” What follows, despite the authors— attempts at nuanced understanding of why girls fail each other and lessons to be learned, is a litany of anecdotes about cruelty, jealousy, fickleness, and fear. From here on the authors’ own recollections and the agonies of Tanya, Wilma, Rose, Angie, Robin, Della, and Quinisha regarding “the friendship wars” takes over. Ninth graders Wendy and Janet spent every Saturday afternoon together, until one Saturday Wendy had to visit a “sick aunt.” Sure enough, riding a bus that afternoon, Janet spotted Wendy window shopping with schoolmate Sandra. (The story, incidentally, is told by a now 40-year-old Janet.) Thirteen-year-old Rowena listens in on a phone conversation between her best friend and another girl. Rowena is dissed. Clare Boothe Luce’s The Women is but one stereotypical scenario that comes to mind. Boys are stereotyped as well, depicted as solving their relationship problems on the playing field. The authors do go on to suggest that female friendships provide support and understanding that can’t be found elsewhere. The thesis that the turmoil of the adolescent friendship dance is valuable in both learning about relationships and defining self is valid, but this description of female best friends is likely to make misogynists of us all. (For a different look at women’s friendships, see Nina Barrett, The Girls, p. 861.)

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1998

ISBN: 0-609-60116-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

DAD'S MAYBE BOOK

Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

more