The Book Club
As a member of a book club, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by a book actually called The Book Club. Mary Alice Monroe lists her own book club in the acknowledgments, and notes that the characters are nothing like the people in her book club. The characters are also nothing like the people in my book club, or probably anyone else’s either. The whole point of the book is to tell the story of a group of five women approaching middle age, all of them facing one tragedy or another. Their book club is peripheral, and at times, contrived. Did I like it anyway? Yes and no. I never really liked any of the characters much, but I couldn’t put the book down either.
The story begins with one character’s tragedy, and gradually broadens until everyone is suffering. Eve is the first casualty. Her husband, a successful surgeon, dies suddenly, leaving her with two children and a mortgage she can no longer afford. Doris and Annie are her closest friends, and they both try to help her through her trials. But of course, they both have their own problems. Doris’ husband is a domineering, philandering jerk who pushes her around and makes her feel horrible about herself. Annie is a successful attorney who decides to have a baby – but at 43, she is having trouble conceiving. Annie and Doris are frequently in competition with each other, usually over Eve’s friendship.
Then there is Midge, long divorced and childless, who often feels lonely. Her domineering, over-sexed mother (think Mona on Who’s the Boss?) sells her condo in Florida and wants to live in the building Midge owns. Midge struggles with her loneliness, her sexuality, and her relationship with her mother. Last is Gabriella, nurse and mother of four, whose husband has recently been laid off.
All of these stories are interwoven, and every now and then the women mention some book they are reading, which always coincides remarkably with their life experiences. At first, all the women just seem whiny, snobby, or clueless. A case in point would be Eve, who before her husband’s death actually thinks these thoughts:
She meant to ask him why he still carried condoms in his bag now that she’d had her tubes tied, but never did. She knew he wasn’t fooling around, and she didn’t want him to think she didn’t trust him.
Is anyone that oblivious?
At first, they all seem very immature – especially Doris and Annie with their petty rivalry. There are numerous details about Doris’ gorgeous home, and Annie’s supermodel looks and five star sex life. Midge and Gabriella are less annoying, but we also hear much less about them than the other three. Sometimes it is too much less; we are briefly shown Midge’s possible lesbianism, but we never find out if she is one! I for one would like to have known.
I was never sure why I was even interested in hearing about these people, but for some reason I was, and I stayed up late into the night reading about them. They did all grow and mature because of their tragedies – particularly Eve. By the end of the book all of them were more likable. Still, they seemed more like old college room mates than members of a book club. It was supposed to be their only connection to each other, but they were much more involved in each other’s lives than typical book club members would be.
If you really enjoy this type of fiction with a cozy ensemble cast, you may like this a little more than I did. It is also quite possible that older readers would relate to these women and their problems more than I. It’s not a bad book. But will I recommend The Book Club to my book club? Probably not.