Sunday, August 28, 2011

Book Review: The Girls from Ames

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I just finished this book by Jeffrey Zaslow. I am fairly certain that I gleaned the title from some type of book recommendation section in Real Simple or Good Housekeeping.

I had very little knowledge of the book before I began and was surprised to realize that this was not fiction and it was not really a story. The author writes for the "hearts" of the readers of the Wall Street Journal and felt compelled to take on the project this particular book must have been. He had received a letter from a woman who, like many others in his writing audience, wanted to share their personal experiences with friendship. Years later, he returned to her letter and developed the book.

I have compared the book to a long magazine interview with a large group of women. The book highlights many of the women for entire chapters, giving their emotional life story, while some of the women have only a fraction of coverage. It is highly anecdotal and it is not chronological.

I am amazed that a man got himself into this mess. I think he did a very good job of relating the numerous characters with enough detail that I did not mix them up and by the end felt like I pretty much could tell someone else about them.

I must admit, however, I came very close to not finishing somewhere in the second chapter. I was somewhat turned off by the mention of these girls being exclusive and very turned off later on when more elaboration was given to a specific incidence of utter cruelty. I commented to a friend that perhaps what made me take more issue was knowing that these were real people. Also, sometimes it is easier to admire fictional characters because they can be molded into "just-right" people, while real individuals have flaws. In the end, I came to realize that while I disapproved of this group in some ways, their ability to recover from these flaws and to maintain their friendship was redeeming.

I didn't find many similarities between their friendships and my long-term friendships (largely because from what I could tell, their group would have been the type that my group was not particularly fond of), I did identify with one idea: that the friendships they (and I) make as an adult are not as deep and also not necessary to be as deep. We have these friends who will always be there. There may not be contact as frequently and they might not know the day to day details, but they are an ever-present influence in our lives, the friends we will always count on, the ones with whom wounds will always heal and histories are sacred.

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