Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

By Claudia Deane
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 22, 2009


By Jennifer Weiner

Atria. 362 pp. $26.99

Best-selling novelist Jennifer Weiner says her seventh book, "Best Friends Forever," is in part an answer to this question: "What if Thelma and Louise didn't have to die?" The two doomed dames do come to mind when reading this high school revenge fantasy, which opens with onetime jock Dan Swansea waking up in a dark parking lot naked with blood on his head. But Weiner fans shouldn't panic; the story soon turns to her more familiar themes: loneliness, friendship, the search for love, the struggles of mothers and daughters, and the sheer misery of being a fat girl in a thin girl's world.

Her heroine here is Addie Downs, a 33-year-old greeting card illustrator in the Chicago suburbs who has spent her adult life taking care of troubled family members and who now lives alone in her childhood home with fresh memories of dismal blind dates. The story starts in earnest when Addie's childhood best friend, Valerie, a beautiful blond weatherperson on "Chicago's third-rated TV station" whom she hasn't spoken to since high school, appears on her doorstep one cold evening, upset and bloodstained. You can probably take it from here, no?

As a fan of vulnerable smartass Cannie Shapiro, the likable heroine of Weiner's most recent bestseller, "Certain Girls," and her breakout novel, "Good in Bed," I had trouble warming up to this most recent offering. In "Best Friends Forever," Valerie is over-the-top, weather-girl ridiculous -- she wants to rob a bank, for heaven's sake -- and at times the story borders on the farcical. But there are compensations. Addie displays flashes of the trademark Weiner snark: "Didn't you once read the weather while you were riding a mechanical bull? I'm going to suggest that the dignity ship has sailed without you aboard." And the flashbacks to the girls' childhood friendship and their two vastly different mothers are moody, touching and true to life.

In fact, the thing I enjoy most about Weiner's books is their familiarity -- how her characters' concerns, jokes, insecurities and even homes feel like real life, or at least the embarrassingly tame version lived by average middle-class moms like me. With its girl-on-the-lam main characters, "BFF" has less comfortable warmth than some of Weiner's previous works, but enough to keep me pleasantly looking forward to book 8.

Deane is a writer in Silver Spring.

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