Published: Aug 19, 2012
On the surface, “To My Dearest Friends” is nothing more than a breezy, chatty, 187-pager about three privileged Manhattan women.
One is recently dead.
One is the 62-year-old owner of a consignment shop for gently worn designer clothes.
And one is a 59-year-old former therapist now selling real estate.
You can imagine the dialogue: kvetch, kvetch, kvetch.
And you'd be so wrong.
For one thing, “To My Dearest Friends” has an irresistible premise: Two weeks after Roberta “Bobbi” Bloom dies, her lawyer calls her two best friends, Alice Vogel and Nanny Wunderlich, to his office. Why? Because Bobbi has given them keys to a safety deposit box. And now the lawyer has a letter for them from Bobbi:
Dearest Nanny and Alice, Dear Dearest Friends in No Particular Order, Please go now to the Chase on Fifty-eighth and Madison. Open the box together. You'll know what to do. Love you to pieces.
Alice and Nancy have nothing in common but their friendship with the deceased. ("I was her best friend," Alice says. "You were her oldest friend," Nancy corrects.) But off they go to the bank. In the box, they find another letter. A love letter. To Bobbie. Undated. Unsigned. With no further instructions. “You'll know what to do.” Hardly.
Obviously, Alice and Nanny can't agree what to do next. But in the course of not agreeing, they have reasons to get together. And we get two treats along the way: wonderfully sharp dialogue and observations, and a quick but deep look into the lives of two New York women.
Some random samples:
Why Bergdorf's moved its restaurant from the 5th floor to the basement: “Guess how many salads you have to sell to equal one pair of Kors stilettos.”
The new definition of rich: “someone who could afford their apartment now.”
Breasts (from the perspective of an older woman): “Time bombs strapped to my rib cage.”
Therapist wisdom: “A man abused by his father is always waiting to be injured. Especially by the person supposed to love him. Injury is what he knows. That's what love is to him.”
As Nanny and Alice bumble through the search for the letter writer, we learn a great deal about the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I live a block away from one of these characters, I have watched every change in this neighborhood described in these pages , and I can attest: Volk got it exactly right. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
I hoovered this book in an evening. And I got the point:
“How many times in your life do you get to wing it like this? To have no idea how it'll wind up?” Nanny says.
When your children move away, Alice thinks. When your mother dies. When police call to say your husband has fallen down in the street or gotten run over by a truck or run someone else over. When you sleep with someone not your husband. “I suppose that's what defines an adventure,” Alice says.
“Not having any idea how it will turn out.”
How does it turn out? With a fantastic surprise. Or so I think. But maybe not. There's some ambiguity at the end --- and don't worry if you weaken and skip there to find out what it is. The words won't help you. This is one book that sends you back to the book for clues. And then into your own head.
“To My Dearest Friends” is an addictive urban adventure story. Nancy Drew for the post-menopausal. Chick-lit for grown-up chicks.
You don't have to be 50-plus to enjoy “To My Dearest Friends.” Or even a woman. You just have to like “smart.”