From time to time I like to surprise myself by reading something that doesn’t involve monsters or ghosts or the seamier side of humanity or teenagers in a flux of crisis. I’ll pick out a book normally labeled as Chick Lit but what I like to call “just a nice read about friendship.” Because even monster lovers like to read about the bonds of enduring friendship every once and awhile.
Jane Green’s The Friends We Keep studies a friendship between three people that spans 30 years. Evvie, Maggie, and Topher meet at college in England during the 80s. They form a fast friendship, forging their separate paths together into adulthood and the real world. Evvie, American born and raised, constantly starves herself and becomes a super model. Maggie marries college sweetheart Ben, whom she hates at first (isn’t that how most love stories start?). Topher becomes a well-known actor while keeping on the down low that he enjoys the company of men.
Like all friendships and the phases of the moon, the relationship between the three waxes and wanes over the years. They lose touch only to reconnect again and then lose touch once more. But each of them is hiding a dark secret, a secret they would normally share with each other but feel so shameful about that they keep them hidden and let them fester like a wounded limb going gangrenous.
Evvie’s modeling career is stopped in its tracks after an affair with a married man results in pregnancy. Topher has a childhood trauma that keeps him from fully loving someone and accepting love in return. Maggie’s marriage to Ben hasn’t been the perfect wedded bliss she pretends it is. Their marriage is on the brink of oblivion from Ben’s chronic alcoholism.
The three best friends get together close to the 30th anniversary of their friendship and move into a house where their secrets slowly trickle out and begin to poison the well. Will their enduring friendship survive such well-kept, yet insidious, secrets?
I think anyone with a soul can relate to this novel and see themselves in one, if not all, of the characters. We’ve all had friendships that have lasted for what seems like an eternity as well as friendships that seem to be over before they even get started. The true test is who we come out as on the other side.
If you want to read a novel with unforgettable characters (I’m still wondering how Maggie’s doing, living the second half of her life and hope she’s okay) pick up The Friends We Keep and take a ride in the ‘way back when machine’ to your own childhood friendships. If nothing else, you’ll begin to wonder what so-and-so’s up to.