Generally I’m apt to eschew books about groups of women and their interrelationships. It seems too much of the “same old, same old” to me, and a cheap way to achieve sentimentality. But I did not shrink from reading this book by Bauermeister, because I knew from reading her previous book, The School of Essential Ingredients, that her writing talent and eye for the subtle vernacular of relationships would make a rewarding story. Indeed, I not only loved it, I wanted a sequel when I was done!
Kate is a cancer survivor for whom six close friends decide to throw a party after she has recovered from all of her treatments. They challenge Kate to accept her daughter’s invitation to go white-water rafting in the Grand Canyon to celebrate that she is alive. Kate is fearful, so the oldest of the group, Marion, proposes a pact:
“If Kate agrees to go down the Grand Canyon, we’ll each promise to do one thing in the next year that is scary or difficult or that we’ve always said we were going to do but haven’t.”
The women agree, and Kate does too, on the condition that all the rest of the women accept challenges that she assigns to each of them. Thereafter, each chapter deals with a specific woman and how she conquers her assigned challenge.
Caroline’s task is to clear her house of her ex-husband’s books. Jack left her nine months earlier after twenty-five years together, and she still hasn’t adjusted. Jack had said he just wanted to be in love. Maybe, Caroline thought, “it had just become too hard, with all those lawns to mow and grocery lists, all the accumulated roles of their lives between them.”
Sara, who loves her three children but is restless, is challenged to take a trip alone.
Daria, who is full of anger and artifice, receives the assignment to learn how to make bread. Sara’s unmarried brother Henry is a baker…
Hadley, a young, now somewhat reclusive woman whose young husband had been killed in a car accident, is charged with taking care of her garden, which is full of flowers that are suffocating under the overgrown ivy.
Marion has been happy living a conventional life of “thirty-three years [of marriage], three children, four dogs, and one thousand three hundred thirty-five batches of Saturday pancakes.” She is a journalist who chronicles other lives. But a long time ago, she had wanted to be a writer of literature. She is tasked with getting a tattoo.
And finally, Ava, Kate’s best friend who avoided her during her bout with cancer, is charged with walking in the three-day, sixty-mile breast cancer fund-raising walk.
Discussion: Well, obviously you can’t get through this book without crying quite frequently. But the author’s prose is just so lovely, and the insights so frequent and piercing, that you don’t mind at all. Listen, for example, to these thoughts by Marion about aging:
“She had never felt the simple urgency of time more than in the past few years, as her ovaries creaked into silence and she had gone for months and then a year without the gush of blood or the deep purple sadness that came with it. She had understood that something was ceasing within her and, more important, would never start again. The cold reality of it had struck her, as if, perched on the crest of a roller coaster, the rest of the ride was suddenly, irreversibly clear. On the way up, the vista had been infinite, the time to look about sometimes agonizingly long; now there was only the certain and dispassionate knowledge that there was one set of rails on which to travel, the ending immutable and about to begin. It didn’t matter that the rest of the trip might take twenty, even thirty years to complete; the angle of the ride had changed.”
Beautifully written, and absolutely right on the money.
Evaluation: A lovely book that is a tribute to friendship, to self-awareness, to acceptance, and to growth. It will make you want to bake bread from scratch, take a trip to the beach, and jump off a rock into the water of the Colorado River! Highly recommended.
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons of Penguin Group, 2011