Claire is a doctor. Sally is a lawyer. Claire grew up in a middle class, two-income family in Ohio. Sally was raised in California, the privileged benefactress of her father's magazine empire. The girls meet for the first time in the fall of 1973, when they become roommates and best friends at the start of their freshman year at Oberlin College. Their friendship lasts for the rest of their lives.
The two women maintain close ties throughout college, then medical school, interning and, finally, private practice for Claire; law school then trial work for Sally. Claire visits Sally as often as possible and becomes an honorary member of her family.
As they grow up, each of them begins to understand that she's been sheltered and naïve, albeit in different ways. Separately, they work through their individual myopia and face the loss of personal "innocence," with support, understanding, and love from each other.
The girls idolize their fathers, and when they are forced to cope with the knowledge of each man's transgressions --- Claire's is an embezzler; Sally's is a pornographer --- they help one another adjust to the fact that "daddy" is not perfect. They go on to share the realizations of the different but undeniable realities of their dysfunctional families; together, they traverse the rough terrain created by the pain of their messy marriages and sad divorces, and share the joys and pain of motherhood.
Throughout the process of stretching toward individuation and the movement toward becoming mature, whole and independent women, these two remain completely loyal to each other. They are professionals and they are wives and they are mothers, every phase evolving in its own time, each woman maturing at her own pace.
BEST FRIENDS is Martha Moody's first novel. The story is told by Claire, in a narrative that takes the form of short, diary-like entries. Thus, the novel has no chapters. Rather, it is separated by several long sections; these devices are clumsy and make for a choppy disjointed read. The reader may find themselves having to look back a page or two to keep the links straight, because unlike an epistolary novel or one written as a journal, here the past and present collide and bump up against each other without clear definition.
Moody is best known for her short stories. Perhaps her gift for writing short fiction is what prevents this novel from rising above its very banal core. She seems to have simply inflated that short form, and in doing so, unfortunately damages what could have been a truly interesting and evocative story. Moody has missed the opportunity to create a novel that is a testament to the special friendship between two very different female characters. The plethora of unnecessary details and formidable redundancies reduces BEST FRIENDS to just another "chick" book. With more editing, this novel might have gained the status and depth found in so many enduring and important novels about the strengths and marvels of women's friendships.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 21, 2011