REVIEW: THE BEST OF US BY SARAH PEKKANEN

THE BEST OF US

Author: Sarah Pekkanen
Simon & Schuster RRP $24.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

The tagline (Australian edition) “WhThe Best of Usen paradise isn’t quite what it seems …” sums up Sarah Pekkanen’s contemporary novel aptly, but the word “paradise” could just as easily be replaced with “marriage”. The Best of Us, set in a tropical paradise, explores four marriages, all at different stages and all being tested by circumstance. It’s also about friendships (which aren’t always what they seem) and how they change, grow or fade over time. Written from the alternating viewpoint of four friends who first met in college, The Best of Us is a book that will appeal to a mainstream female audience looking for something they can relate to without taxing them too much.

“But then again, didn’t all marriages carry thousands of hurts? Didn’t husbands and wives injure each other all the time, leaving wounds both big and small, with snapped words or forgotten anniversaries or emotional buttons deliberately pushed?” The Best of Us – Sarah Pekkanen

If someone offered Blue Eyes and I an all-expense-paid week at a luxury villa in Jamaica, I’d definitely give it some thought. After all, we do have four teens at home … say no more. When three women are each offered this invitation of a lifetime, made possible by the wife of an old college friend about to celebrate his 35th birthday, it sounds like the perfect opportunity for a reunion and an escape or reprieve from life’s challenges. Before long, husbands in tow, they are relaxing near a private beach, eating gourmet dinners, kicking back with a few drinks, and making the most of some much-needed time out.

Each one comes to the island nursing their own reasons for wanting this time out. With four young children, Tina is finding it hard to keep up with everything. Her house is a mess, she’s put on a little weight and at the back of her mind, there are always money worries. A week away fills her with guilt at leaving the kids … and then guilt for enjoying herself. In contrast, Allie (Tina’s best friend) seems to have it all together; she’s coping well with motherhood and is managing to combine that well with part-time social work. What no one knows, not even her husband, is that Allie is worried by the news that a genetic illness (Lou Gehrig’s disease, aka ALS or motor neurone disease) runs in her family … and that she might have the gene. If she does, she knows her life will be considerably shorter and her quality of life will be greatly impacted. Savannah turns up alone, pretending her husband is busy. In truth, he has left Savannah for a younger woman and Savannah is desperate to prove that she can still attract a man. Her brazen manner does not escape the notice of Pauline, who barely knows the other three women and has only been married to their old friend Dwight for a few years. She’s gone all out to make Dwight’s birthday special, but she’s masking the pain of infertility and keeping a big family secret from Dwight.

Your problems are your own and they tend to follow you around and that’s exactly what happens when the veneer of paradise wears off in The Best of Us. Little do the women know that an approaching hurricane will mirror the storms about to be unleashed in their own lives. A combination of too much alcohol, late nights and too much time on their hands brings out the worst of the characters as they grapple with the secrets, lies and worries that have followed them, resulting in flirtations, confrontations and an affair.

The Best of Us is a warm and engaging story in which each character is forced to consider their choices and relationships over a week. Each character has a distinct voice, which is testament to Pekkanen’s writing ability, and most of the characters develop well, if somewhat predictably, over the novel. Most readers will sense something they can relate to in one or more of the characters. Of all the female characters, I felt that Savannah was least developed (I wasn’t convinced by the way her story ended) and I related less to her and Pauline than to Tina and Allie. However, of the latter two characters, one of them became involved in an affair and the way that was “resolved” bothered me because it didn’t quite marry with the character’s reminder that trust and communication are key in a relationship.

Overall, I enjoyed curling up with this book and it was just right for my mood at the time. I like Pekkanen’s writing style and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more from her in the future. She’s picked up on some good issues facing many women, such as how to combine motherhood with a career (or having one at all) and how to cope with the changing landscapes of marriage, as well as tapping into themes of forgiveness, redemption, betrayal, love and responsibility.

Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster Australia

Bookish treat: Some Lindt balls may have been consumed during the reading of this book.