Title: The Best of Us
Author: Sarah Pekkanen
No. of Pages: 352
Bottom Line: Fantastic study of friendship against a backdrop of a dream of a vacation.
“An all-expense-paid week at a luxury villa in Jamaica – it’s the invitation of a lifetime for a group of old college friends. All four women are desperate not just for a reunion, but for an escape: Tina is drowning under the demands of mothering four young children. Allie is shattered by the news that a genetic illness runs in her family. Savannah is carrying the secret of her husband’s infidelity. And, finally, there’s Pauline, who spares no expense to throw her wealthy husband an unforgettable thirty-fifth birthday celebration, hoping it will gloss over the cracks already splitting apart their new marriage.Languid hours on a private beach, gourmet dinners, and late nights of drinking kick off an idyllic week for the women and their husbands. But as a powerful hurricane bears down on the island, turmoil swirls inside the villa, forcing each of the women to reevaluate everything she knows about her friends…and herself.”
Thoughts: In Sarah Pekkanen’s latest novel, The Best of Us, four groups of friends – most of whom have known each other since college – gather together for an all-expenses-paid, adults only trip to Jamaica. While the group reconnects and relaxes, a hurricane, and its not-so-subtle symbolism, hurtles towards the island and the group. Even in this dream landscape, surrounded by good friends and the most luxurious settings, the group finds that while they can run from their problems, they cannot hide from them. As the storm outside builds and eventually rages, so too do the pressures and strains of each woman, and friendships are tested in unfathomable ways.
Ms. Pekkanen’s characters are always so wonderfully complex, and the cast of The Best of Us is no different. There is something slightly despicable in each of the women, but that is what makes them so powerfully real. Better yet, Ms. Pekkanen caters to a myriad of women with her characters – from the stay-at-home mothers to the women driven by their careers to the women who have miraculously found that balance between family and work. Tina, Allie, Savannah, and even Pauline are archetypes of the truest kind, and while no one reader will be able to relate to all four of the women, each reader will be able to find one of the women with whom to empathize.
Another reviewer called The Best of Us the best kind of Mommy porn, and this working mother unequivocally concurs with that reviewer. Women everywhere, regardless of maternal status, will agree with the sentiment that the idea of an all-expenses paid vacation to a luxurious private home in the Caribbean, replete with chef, fully-stocked bar, masseuse, and private jet, sounds like a little slice of heaven in spite of the hurricane that hits the island. It is at once a decadent fantasy and a testament to how stressful real life is for women, when even the dangers of a hurricane have some appeal. Ms. Pekkanen excels at the ability to portray the unique stresses and fears women face in modern society, and The Best of Us is just another example of her skill.
In this culture of Mean Girls and Supermoms, where women continue to backstab and downplay other women’s successes in hopes of climbing further up the corporate ladder, where women still struggle with “having it all”, Ms. Pekkanen showcases the positive aspects of female relationships and brings a breath of fresh air to this landscape of female bullies and the ongoing debate of work and family vs. work or family. Her characters have a strong sense of identity and more importantly have a strong sense of friendship. They might disagree and even fight, but they will always forgive and forget. It is at once extremely touching to behold and heartbreaking because of how rare the friendships portrayed in The Best of Us really are. If anything, Ms. Pekkanen shows us what is possible and not what is, and it is this message which readers should take to heart.
The Best of Us is a fast-paced, thoroughly escapist and utterly enjoyable book on the true meaning of friendship. While the circumstances in which the group of friends finds themselves may be extreme and idealized, the substance behind the friendships is not. Add to that a stunning and exotic backdrop and a trip of a lifetime, and the combination is an addicting combination of fun and truth. With The Best of Us, Ms. Pekkanen solidifies her reputation as not only an excellent storyteller but also a superb observer of life as her books drive to the heart of what people want.