The Girlfriends Club
by Judith Henry Wall
(Pocket, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-7434-6511-3
Have you ever gone to a high school reunion where you talked with the senior class Homecoming Queen and she told you that her ex had left her with practically nothing and almost never sent child support checks and her kids were starting to get over wanting to live with daddy instead of her and she’d gone back to school so she could support herself and had horrendous student loans but she was finally getting her life back in order and isn’t it great to see everyone again? And another friend tells you she thinks her medication this time is really working and she hasn’t felt suicidal in months now and doesn’t everyone look terrific. And all the guys have gray hair or no hair at all and waistlines multiple times what they had in high school and are expounding at length about their sportscars and boats and annual vacations at tropical resorts and how their first wife didn’t appreciate them and their second wife has such great legs because she teaches high-energy aerobics classes and really understands them and besides everyone knows marriage doesn’t last the way it used to.

Then you come home and tell your friends you had a great time and you’re all hoping to get together again five years from now.

And you’ll go back again in five years and go through it all over again.

The Girlfriends Club is pretty much the same kind of experience only there’s terminal illness, accidental death, and endless angst in it as well.

Four women in their forties are celebrating a friend’s birthday at a lake cottage near Kansas City. The friend, Mary Sue, has breast cancer and is scheduled for a mastectomy the following day. Mary Sue’s marriage ended when her husband left her for another woman. (For the male characters in this book, monogamy is a foreign concept.) She has a boyfriend Walter who has been invited to join them later in the evening. When Walter doesn’t show, Dixie, the major protagonist, calls him and angrily insists he drive out even though he declares he finds Mary Sue’s breast cancer a major turnoff.

After Mary Sue has gone to sleep, Walter shows up drunk and half-dressed. In a fight with the Mary Sue’s friends, he falls and breaks his neck. For a variety of reasons - one being Mary Sue’s surgery the next day - none of the three want to call the police. In the end, they dispose of the body and Walter’s car in the lake.

There are still hundreds of pages to go while the four women individually struggle with their problems - mostly involving egocentric, faithless men - and the knowledge that Walter is abiding at the bottom of the lake.

On the front cover of The Girlfriends Club, Sandra Brown is quoted as saying, “Entertaining and touching.” (She probably counts the minutes until the next time she can go to a high school reunion!) There are lots of words I could use to describe this book and way down on the list are “entertaining” and “touching.” “Depressing,” “unsettling,” “man-hating” more readily come to mind. The Girlfriends Club is not romance, but more properly described as women’s fiction. For these four characters, everlasting love is a myth and marriage is not the happy ending.

Maybe I have to endure the high school reunion scene just to prove I’m alive and doing better than anyone ever would have expected - “You review books for an online website? How fascinating!”--but I don’t have to subject myself to the same agony for four fictional friends who have more individual miseries - not to mention the problem of the dead body in the lake - than a psychiatrist’s office on a busy day.

But if your life is so blissful you need something to pull you down from the stratosphere, this book will do it. If you’re not feeling so chipper, keep the suicide hotline number close at hand.

As for me, I’m working on plans for the next high school reunion.

--Lesley Dunlap

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