Book Club book talk: “Best Friends”

Best Friends by Martha Moody
Best Friends
Martha Moody
Riverhead Trade, 2002 (ISBN 1573229350 / 9781573229357)
Fiction, 496 pages

First sentence: Really, all I wanted in a college was unrest and demonstrations. (See the first sentence on page 123 here.)

Book description: When Clare Mann arrives at Oberlin in 1973, she’s never met anyone like Sally Rose. Rich and beautiful, Sally is utterly foreign to a middle-class, Midwestern Protestant like Clare—and utterly fascinating. The fascination only grows when Sally brings her home to L.A. Mr. Rose—charismatic, charming, and owner of a profitable business shrouded in secrecy—is nearly as compelling a figure to Clare as he is to his own daughter. California seems like paradise after winters in Ohio. And Clare begins to look forward desperately to these visits, to carefree rides in Sally’s Kharmann Ghia and lazy poolside days.

As the years pass, Clare becomes a doctor and Sally a lawyer, always remaining roommates at heart, a plane ride or phone call away. Marriages and divorces and births and deaths do not separate them. But secrets might—for as Clare watches, the Rose family begins to self-destruct before her eyes. And the things she knows are the kinds of things that no one wants to tell a best friend.

Comments: Based on some of the info in Martha Moody’s online bio, I infer that that this book has certain autobiographical elements; like Clare, Moody is (was) a physician, and she has had the same best friend since college. I hope there aren’t too many similarities other than that – if you choose to read the novel, you’ll see what I mean, but I don’t want to give any spoilers.

For the most part, I found this book rather irritating. The writing was pedestrian and I didn’t like the characters very much, but the story itself was interesting enough to keep me reading – and that’s the annoying part. If it had been duller or more offensive, I could have bailed on it more easily, but I wanted to see how it turned out; and frankly, I kept hoping it would get better and I would like it more. However, it generally didn’t resonate with me emotionally, and I didn’t get much of a sense that the characters grew or developed; life just kept happening to them, and they kept making questionable choices. The parts I liked best actually had little to do with Clare and Sally’s friendship; I was more interested in Clare’s medical practice as an AIDS specialist in Ohio, and I sometimes got the sense that Clare was more interested in Sally’s Southern California home and life than she was in Sally herself (which was reinforced by Clare’s initial reaction to Sally’s move to Idaho).

Best Friends seems to be a pretty popular novel, so it clearly appeals to a lot of people, but it just didn’t click with me. I think women’s long-term friendships can be great frameworks for novels, but to cite one example from my recent reading, I thought it was done better here.

I read this for my book club, but I won’t be able to make it to the meeting, so I’m going to participate in the discussion by e-mailing this to the other members (only Cheryl has a blog). I suspect I may have a minority opinion of this one, but no one likes everything – and just because it wasn’t my thing doesn’t mean someone else won’t love it.

Rating: 2/5

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  1. I know it’s for a book club, but I give you credit for finishing the book. I’m reading one now, by an author I like, and I’ve put it aside because I’m not into it. I give up pretty easily; that’s why it’s best I’m not in a book club. 🙂

  2. Mike – I don’t bail on books very often, but I think the fact I finished this one knowing I wasn’t going to be at the book club meeting should get me extra credit. 🙂

  3. I haven’t heard of this book before. I’m sorry it was disappointing. You definitely deserve extra points for finishing a book you didn’t care for. When I do that, I always feel like I wasted my time. 🙁

  4. Literary Feline – You can find a copy of it at Target, if you’re interested – that’s where I picked mine up.

    Not only was it for Book Club, but the person who picked it was my sister, so I really felt like I had to finish it. 🙂