By Jennifer Weiner
Old college friends, reuniting to celebrate a birthday of the geeky guy down the hall who’s now a billionaire. A gorgeous villa in a tropical paradise. A weekend getaway where the private jet whisks you off to the private beach, and a private chef prepares gourmet feasts. Add a trunk-load of secrets, old resentments, clandestine kisses – not to mention enough booze to float a cruise ship – and you’ve got the ingredients for a beach read with humor and heart.
Fifteen years ago, Tina, Allie and Savannah were friends at the University of Virginia, and Dwight Glass, “thin and awkward as a praying mantis,” was their brainy, socially awkward friend.
Now Dwight’s made a fortune from the dot-com he founded, is married to pretty Pauline, who does volunteer work and has turned trying to get pregnant into a full-time job. Tina Antonelli is a stay-at-home mom, happily married, if a little overwhelmed by the mechanics of managing four children: “the enormous jumble of dirty laundry on the basement floor, the egg-encrusted dishes littering the kitchen sink, the new stain on the rug, which already resembled a Rorschach test.” Allie Reed, Tina’s best friend from college, a girl who read to the blind, “loaned out her class notes to anyone who asked…smiled at everyone she passed on the street,” and dragged Dwight into some semblance of a social life, is a social worker. She works part-time, enjoys her two daughters…and if she and her architect husband “had sex a bit less often these days, if all of their activities seemed to revolve around the girls – well, wasn’t that to be expected when you had young kids?”
Savannah McGrivey, a glamorous real-estate agent with a gym-toned body and a flashy wardrobe, has it all – except for a husband. After putting Gary through medical school, he’s dumped her for a nurse. “She’d been so proud when he could officially add the initials M.D. after his name, feeling as though it was their shared triumph. How ironic that an anesthesiologist had caused her the most pain she’d ever felt in her entire life.” When an Internet date goes disastrously bad, Savannah decides to join her friends and their spouses in Jamaica, without telling them that Gary’s jumped ship.
These women might have been cardboard-thin clichés – the burdened mother, the good girl, the cougar, the trophy wife. But with Pekkanen’s sharp eye for detail, and her generosity toward her flawed-but-trying cast of characters, the ladies of The Best of Us emerge as full-bodied and believable, with more dimensions than you’d expect. Pauline’s arc, in particular, is surprising and heartbreaking, as Pekkanen peels back the layers to show why social-climbing Pauline is so obsessed with security, financial and otherwise, and to show us the depths of Dwight’s love. The dialogue will ring true to any reader who’s ever wondered about the road not taken, or found herself in the breakdown lane of the road she did take. “Want to know the first thought that pops into my mind almost every morning after opening my eyes?” Tina asks. “I start anticipating being able to go to bed at night. I’m just so tired all the time.
You won’t always like the women – Tina can be a martyr, Savannah can be a handful, and Pauline’s high-handed tone with her staff will grate on anyone who’s ever toiled in the service sector – but watching them reveal their true selves during a long weekend in Paradise is a wonderful escape, and a chance to vacation vicariously. You may not spend your spring break flying in a private jet, or get a chance to vacation with your BFFs in a posh villa that sits on a bluff overlooking a white-sand beach, enjoying jaunts on helicopters or a chartered catamaran (or, in Savannah’s case, the attention of the catamaran’s hunky first mate)…but The Best of Us is surely the next best thing.