I expected one of those easy, fun, skim-the-surface reads when THE
SECRET LANGUAGE OF GIRLFRIENDS arrived in my mailbox recently.
Before even opening the envelope, I was already imagining something
along the lines of those tacky TV "chick shows" about the pitfalls
of Internet romance, the miracle of cosmetic makeovers, breathless
tell-all forums on perfect love-making, how to shop for shoes, etc.
In other words, I was expecting style, self-absorption and perhaps
some cynical wit. But substance? Soul-stirring inspiration? Genuine
cosmic insight? After all, we're talking girlfriends here --- you
know, the kind of relationships formed in high school washrooms, in
shopping malls, over interminable phone calls that drove our
But now it's confession and celebration time. I was wrong --- and I
was never happier to be wrong.
You see, I couldn't actually reach the mailbox to get Karen
Neuberger's wonderful revelation about female friendship. Thanks to
some rogue bacterium, a minor leg injury went terribly wrong,
leaving me miserably chair-bound, very sore, frustrated at my
doctor's orders to choke down those antibiotics, and not a little
worried about the long-term effects on my mobility.
It was a visiting girlfriend who cleared my mailbox, made coffee,
did my dishes, even fed the cat, and then sat down and kept me
company all evening with some of the best conversation I'd had in
ages. And of course she told all the other girlfriends. I had
become a team project!
A few days later, as I was deeply immersed in the anecdotes and
insight of THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF GIRLFRIENDS, another brought over
dark chocolate, flowers, and an unfinished knitting project. She
insisted on doing my laundry while I sorted out her dropped
stitches. Then we shared the chocolate, talked, watched a favorite
Britcom, talked, laughed ourselves silly, talked.... Several others
joined the relay in the following days, knowing exactly what to do,
when to do it, and how much.
Finally, I realized that this is what it's all about, the
girlfriend thing. We were living what Neuberger has packed so
brilliantly --- and substantially --- into every page. I also
realized that who we are as befriending and tending women has got
to be genetic, uniquely hardwired into every healthy feminine
psyche from the dawn of creation.
And so a week-from-hell that had begun with a fearful six-hour
ordeal in the local hospital ER, ended in happy tears, gales of
laughter, and above all, the indescribable grace of knowing I would
never be alone when some dumb luck crisis suddenly strikes. As one
of my long-distance "broad squad" members reminded me during a
two-hour phone call across three time-zones, it just happened to be
my turn to "get the treatment" --- to be spoiled, reassured,
affirmed, propped up, accepted unconditionally in my worst moods,
and loved into healing.
I'm still spending a lot of time with the inconvenient leg propped
up, but I'm beating the blues now by reading my favorite bits of
THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF GIRLFRIENDS aloud, sometimes for the second
or third time, to this wonderful, extravagant herd of women, whose
collective power to release healing endorphins never fails to
Neuberger may not have invented the "secret" of our intuitive
language, but few writers communicate its vocabulary and grammar
with such authentic experience and delightful skill. This is one
"chick book" that belongs on every mature woman's bookshelf --- if
you can actually keep it there.
Be firm, be strong: tell the girlfriends to go buy their own
Reviewed by Pauline Finch (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 23, 2011