Friday, April 13, 2012
Book Review: The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow
I was, as most people, skeptical about a man writing about a friendship among women (or girls, as they were when they first met), but Mr. Zaslow really does pull it off! I was also skeptical that a group as large as 11 could really all be close friends, but in the end the girls convinced me of that as well (although it certainly isn't everyday.)
In the end, about half of the girls came alive for me, like Kelly and Karla and Marilyn, but others remained distant enigmas, like Diana and Jenny. Mr. Zaslow began the book with four chapters each about one girl (well, some of them were sort of about two girls, the main girl the chapter was about and the girl she was closest to), but then he abandoned that structure and most of the following chapters were more thematic, focusing on children, growing older, and mean girls. Personally, I wish he'd continued with his initial structure, covering all 11 girls (at least in pairs), and I wish there was a little more about their youth and teen years, and less on their adult years. Yes, their friendships have really influenced and molded their adult decisions and helped them face hard times, but I never fully understood how a group this large worked, how it held together, and how it worked within the larger community of their high school. I frequently found myself referring back to the page with three pictures of each girl and a brief description to remind myself, "now, who is Jane? Which one is Cathy?" I don't think it's any fault of Mr. Zaslow's, it was just an inevitable outcome with a subject so large and unwieldy.
I did enjoy the book very much. These women are exactly ten years older than me, so exactly the age of my cousin Mary Jo which helped me to always know what year it was and how old they were in certain situations. I liked the flashbacks to keggers in cornfields and the 70s music and pop stars, and the photos with Farrah Fawcett hair were priceless. For the most part the women seemed open and honest, but you could tell certain things were glossed over, and only one particularly ugly incident where the group turned on one of their own was noted, although there must have been others (albeit perhaps not as notable in their viciousness or long-lasting repercussions.) I got the feeling that while they did want to be honest with Mr. Zaslow, they did keep things relatively light, and there were certainly hints of deeper ugliness that weren't addressed, such as most of the group's disapproval of Kelly in recent years.
Being ten years younger, I was dismayed at not only the assumption that they would all marry and have children and jobs would be a second priority, but that even Cathy, the one who never married and hasn't had children, is presented a bit as lonely and wistfully wishing for what the other women have. Some of us aren't that maternal and we don't all need to be paired off right away and forever. While a couple of the women do divorce, they remarry right away, and I just got a vibe of disapproval about both Cathy and Kelly's paths, even though neither of them chose those paths, and they also aren't "wrong." But I think that's partly a generational issue. No one was disapproving at Karla's nearly immediate remarriage, which I personally found to be a much more questionable decision, even though it did work out.
Overall, this was an intriguing glimpse into a time and a place and eleven women whose lives were changed forever by knowing each other. Through tragedy and happiness, they always are there for each other and come together over the years to provide support, caring, and common history.
I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.