By Kristy Kiernan
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Release Date: April 6, 2010
As the story begins, Cora has been diagnosed with PKD (polycystic kidney disease) and has returned to Southwest Florida to tell Ali about the illness and to warn her that Letty has a 50 percent chance of developing PKD. Meanwhile, Ali has decided that she wants another baby. After all, there are all those frozen embryos. Benny, who is troubled by problems related to his job as a cop, is adamant that they don’t need another child, and Letty, a rebellious teen, is teetering on the brink of real trouble. Their disagreement about a second child and about parenting Letty create tension in their marriage. Change and secrets complicate all these relationships.
Between Friends is women’s fiction, not romance. Although the love between Ali and Benny is a significant part of the story, as is his relationship with their daughter, the heart of the novel is the relationship between Ali and Cora and the relationship each of them has to Letty. Kiernan alternates narrators throughout the book, so that the reader is given the point of view of Ali, Cora, and Letty. Some readers may find the alternating points of view distracting, but I think no other choice would have allowed readers to understand and empathize with all three characters. I admit I winced when Cora’s disease was revealed. A woman’s courageous struggle with life-threatening illness has been used so often in women’s fiction that it has become a cliché of the genre, but Cora’s battle is not the typical one. In fact, the book is filled with things that could have become clichés—the coming home, the marital problems, the problem teenager. It is to Kiernan’s credit that none of them do. Instead, she crafts credible, imperfect characters who love one another but who sometimes wound one another. They inhabit a world where bad things happen, but where beloved places, hands to hold, and the sun rising on a new day provide solace and the strength to prevail.
One of my tests to separate books that are just okay from those that are special is whether there are moments that stay with me after I’ve finished the book. Between Friends passed the test beautifully. Place is important in my reading, and in sentences like this one, Kiernan provides just enough detail for the reader to have a feel for the specific setting:
“We sat in the sand, still hot enough that it burned through my shorts and soft enough that it cradled me like a mother.”
Letty’s reaction to her celebrity status as a “miracle baby” rang so true to me:
“I mean, I'm sorry, but it's weird to be, like, seven years old and be talking to my friends' moms about sperm.”
Then there’s the moment when Ali and Cora are talking about Benny and about Ali’s appreciating him anew. Ali says, “He’s really cute.” Both women start laughing and, for me, that shared laughter in the face of all their problems said so much about the friendship. I must remain silent about other unforgettable moments in order to prevent spoilers, but, trust me, there are moments so poignant one hanky may be inadequate.
I like Kristy Kiernan’s voice, and I like her willingness to tackle tough questions. Between Friends was my first Kiernan book, but I’ve already placed on hold at my local library her other novels, Matters of Faith and Catching Genius.
Readers: Do you read women's fiction? Who are some of your favorite women's fiction authors? Any books you'd recommend?