In the waning days of Yugoslavia, a shady mail carrier decides to blackmail his neighbor, whom he caught cheating from his wife. He will soon get a taste of blackmail himself, and The Pelican: A Comedy takes us through the complicated and very entertaining relationship between the blackmailers. It’s funny and absurd and a great escape.
Tag Archives: friends
As Chances Are opens, three college friends are getting together for a weekend in the Cape Cod house of on of them, decades after a young woman disappeared mysteriously from the same house, as they were all gathered for a post-graduation ceremony. The mystery will be untangled and many memories shared, or relived. It’s all fine and comfortable and even entertaining, but a little lightweight at the same time.
The Party is the story of a long, complicated, dark friendship that unravels brutally on the night of a lavish party. The author dribbles out the story as one of the friend is interviewed by the police while his wife recuperates at a rehab center. The plot is quite ordinary, stemming from the vast class differences between the friends; what makes the book is the slow deployment of it. Delicious!
The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds tells the story of the collaboration and friendship between Amos Tversky and Dan Kahneman, which produced so many insights in behavioral economics (and indeed, founded the field). The most interesting part of the book to me was not so much the science, although tantalizing anecdotes abound, but the friendship, and how accidents of life and egos eventually terminated a tight working and personal relationship that seemed to be able to bring out the best qualities of each partner, until they quarreled.
Innocents and Others follows two filmmaker who started out as best friends but find themselves on different tracks. I expect that movie buffs and would-be filmmakers will like the story, which is told, overly preciously to my taste, partly in the form of scripts and blog posts for a film class. There are some lovely observations here and there: the mother who automatically accepts any scheme that stars a favored friend of her daughter’s, the woman who hopes her husband won’t get into a writing program that would require a long separation — but overall I felt the story was plodding, even aimless, although well-written and carefully unfolded.
A Little Life starts slowly, appearing to describe nothing more than four aimless friends, moving to glittery New York after four years in a pampered elite Boston (excuse me, Cambridge!) college, and I almost gave up after 100 pages of aimlessness and breathless New York travelogue. We have to make choices when faced with a 700-page tome!
But I am glad I persisted, since the book then morphs into the personal, tragic story of one of the four, blending his appalling childhood with his current travails, with the other friends moving to secondary characters. It ends in an overdone, to my taste, and even more tragic episode — but the bulk of the story is breath-taking and full of well-observed details.
Crossing to Safety is the masterful story of a friendship between two academic couples who meet in Madison, Wisconsin, during the Depression and remain friends for decades. There are challenges along the way, some easily surmounted, it turns out, such as a vast difference in economic circumstances. Others are more difficult, especially how friends can witness, suffer from, but not do very much as a couple struggles through relationship issues. The author’s plain style captures the small moments of life perfectly — including the rigid sex roles from decades past, which interestingly create much of the conflict in the story. The willful Charity (what a name!) today would be writing Lean In, not pressuring her poor husband to publish books he has no desire to write…
The Interestings… are not so interesting, at least not for the first 200 pages of the book, during which they obsessively think about themselves, the apparently wonderful coincidence of their friendship, kindled in a magical summer camp while in their teens, and their astonishment at how much things have changed since then (duh!). The story gets much more interesting as they age — perhaps because I’m too old to relate to young’uns — but only sporadically, with each intensely well observed family life incident drowned in more dreary self-absorbed trivia. The story is also afflicted with a surfeit of well-researched, well-described, but rather tedious clichés: the mom’s drug-sharing boyfriend in the 70s, the tortured gay man in the 80s, the uber-successful artist, and the vicissitudes of NYC real estate. So why two stars? Because the shining moments are superb, including the family woes described above and, especially, the travails of the dad of the Asperger’s kid who simply, with shame, does not love his son.
Note to self: avoid books that include a reading group guide. Who writes these guides anyway? They are so simplistic and patronizing. The real problem is not the guide, naturally, but the likely pairing of said guide with fairly insipid novels, The Wednesday Sisters being the second encounter for me in a few days (Bed and Breakfast is in the same category).
This book talks about a friendship between five young mothers and would-be writers that takes place in the late sixties near Stanford University where several of their husbands work. They don’t work, as the phrase go, except for raising their children, and raising them pretty much on their own since the husbands have demanding jobs. There’s plenty of interesting local history that rings true, including the beginning of Intel, the semiconductor company but the rest is tedious. Breast cancer, multiple miscarriages, a messy affair and divorce before divorce became common, all the expected tear jerkers are there, along with tedious friendship secrets and withheld information. If these women are so close to each other why don’t they admit to simple things, such as breast cancer? And the whole book is steeped into a severely heavy-handed treatment of how unliberated these smart, educated women are. It doesn’t ring very true for the period, and it’s so unsubtle!
Val and Addie were friends once, in elementary school, but Val left Addie behind in high school as she moved into the popular people clique and Addie ate herself into an enormous body. Fifteen years later, Addie has a nice house, a good job, and a thin body, while Val may well have killed someone. So in a befuddling non-sequitur Addie flees with Val to escape the police (makes no sense to me either!) The police is a smart and lonely police chief who effortlessly figures out the entire sequence of events — and to whom good, predictable things will happen in the end. The descriptions of the house read like a bad women’s magazine, or perhaps real estate ads, the secondary characters are even more two-dimensional than the main ones. And the book is fun, breathless, and won’t load up your brain too much.