Monday, May 18, 2009

Review: The Thin Lines of Friendship

At the end of each school year in high school, I would go to the Borders near my house, make a list of all the books I wanted to read, and check them all out from the library. I put Best Friends by Martha Moody on that list around six years ago, and I just got around to reading it.

Moody tells the story of two girls who attend college at Oberlin in 1973 and are paired as roommates their freshman year. Sally Rose from California and Clare Mann from Ohio could not be bigger opposites. Their personalities seem to be backwards, based on the states they each call home--Clare is a hippie reactionary and Sally is likened to an innocent farm girl. They form a deep friendship, though, and this book follows their relationship from college through the changing times to their early forties.

Clare is intrigued by the Roses' seeming perfection, confidence, and strong bond, and she visits Sally often. California, to Clare, has an enchanting quality that gives her a sense of belonging she never felt back in Ohio. After college, Clare becomes a lawyer, Sally an AIDS doctor. Both have failed marriages, complicated relationships. The one constant in each of their lives is the friendship. Told from Clare's perspective, the novel follows the lives of each woman through husbands, children, and family troubles. As the years pass and Clare becomes closer to the Rose family, she gets entangled in their secrets that could potentially damage her friendship with Sally, and watches as this family that once seemed to hold a mythical perfection crumbles to human proportions.

Moody writes with one of my favorite styles; she focuses on detailed character development and relationships rather than following a plot with a simple introduction, climax, and conclusion. She allows the reader to get to know these characters over a long period of time, and we can observe their personal growth. We understand the decisions they make and their relationship with each other. I thought Moody perfectly illustrated the thin lines that exist in friendship--knowing when to keep your mouth shut, remaining supportive despite difference of opinion about another's decisions. Clare constantly found herself in these situations with Sally, having to ask, "At what point is honesty worth risking the friendship?"  

Though a fairly long novel (around 500 pages), I got through it pretty quickly, because I was always drawn into the lives of these characters. While reading, I was wondering if I was going to end up liking or disliking it, on a whole. I mean, I must have enjoyed it to some degree since I kept reading, but I came to the realization that I did not really care for either of the characters. Neither had qualities that made them especially likable, though I didn't dislike them either. Overall, it was the style that kept me interested--getting a glimpse into these people's lives and constantly wanting to know what happens next. Sadly, like with every novel written in this style, no ending ever feels adequate, because you don't want to stop reading while you know the characters are still living.

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