Lauren Fox | Friends Like Us (Knopf)

friendslikeusSometimes she purposely does the wrong thing. She is, in short, human.

 

Milwaukee is a different setting for upscale chick-lit, but it works for this entertaining story of an unexpected triangle. See, Willa and Jane are BFFs. They’re almost like Patty and Cathy on the old Patty Duke Show, only not related. They look alike—tall, blonde, and beautiful—but they suffered the same “agonies” of not fitting in when they were in high school, where they were taller and thinner than anyone else. They even walk and sound alike, in the sense that they have that Vulcan mind meld thing happening. They are 26 and living together in peace and harmony, when one fateful night…

Willa goes to her eight-year high school reunion (I know that number is weird, but it is explained) and runs into her high school bestie, a guy named Ben who was a classic nerd. Naturally, we quickly learn that the 5′3″ young Ben has morphed into a six-footer whose acne and glasses have disappeared but his sardonic sense of humor has not. He now appeals to Willa as he did back in the day, with a whole new set of attributes that look really good on him. When they quickly leave the party after an embarrassing question is asked, they fall back into the old groove, only this time, it ends in a kiss. Fairytale ending, right? Well, not quite: Willa doesn’t much like the kiss, and neither does Ben. But she doesn’t want to lose him again, so what’s a gal to do? She talks about all this with Jane, whom she then introduces to Ben…

And the actual story begins. This book is longer than it needs to be, and rather precious in spots, but it does focus closely on twentysomething millennials and what their lives are like today. Willa, Jane, and Ben are all un- or under-employed. Their work has little to do with what they wanted and studied to be, and they seem to be placeholders in a kind of endless adolescence. They work, but it doesn’t mean much to them. Unlike earlier generations, they are perhaps overly cautious in selecting a life partner, and they seem too young to really settle down. But the most interesting thing about them to me is that they truly seem to value their friendships as much as their love affairs.

They are an observant group, deeply affected by their parents’ experiences, which, for the most part, they don’t want to repeat. They cast cold eyes on marriage; Willa especially, who is the center of the novel, already fears being alone and childless, though her biological clock hasn’t even reached the half-hour yet. Her character is another of the book’s strengths: She isn’t always likeable and she doesn’t always do the right thing. Sometimes, in fact, she purposely does the wrong thing—hooks up with the wrong guy, doesn’t exploit her artistic talent to the fullest, and isn’t above hurting a friend. She is, in short, human.

There’s a lot more about Fox’s second novel to enjoy, and I recommend it for those times you don’t want the steak exactly, but a great burger with all your favorite toppings. | Andrea Braun

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