Few writers, it seems, are immune to what I call the "Four Friends
Formula": take four very different people (women, men, a mix), give
them a shared background (often college or university, sometimes an
apartment or office), throw in life's rich pageant, and stir.
Voila, a cosmopolitan cocktail (sic) a la Sex and the City.
(It doesn't matter at what stage in her career the author is; Rona
Jaffe's most recent book, THE ROOMMATING SEASON, followed this
scenario.) And why not? It offers four different characters, four
different storylines, four different perspectives … and more
than four ways that things can go wrong.
Jane Green, an expat Brit (who now lives Stateside with her husband
and --- guess the number --- four children), struck Chick Lit gold
with her novels JEMIMA J and BOOKENDS. Her publisher has now
reissued her 1997 novel STRAIGHT TALKING. Anastasia, known to all
as "Tasha" or "Tash," has a singularly enviable London life. She's
a producer for a morning television show, owns her flat, and has a
wardrobe full of understatedly elegant navy and camel glad rags.
She also lets us know early on that she's "stunning" --- none of
the "Does-my-bum-look-big-in-this?" Chick Lit whining for
However, Tasha also has issues --- one might say she even has a
subscription. Brought up by materially well-to-do but emotionally
bad-to-worse parents, Tasha's idea of connecting with others
consists of weekly gorge-and-gab fests with her three girlfriends
--- Mel, Emma and Andy --- and passionfests with her man of the
moment. Early on Tasha spills the story of her one stab at a
successful relationship with Simon, who ditched her for a dumber
blonde named Tanya.
While Simon leaves Tasha for good, his best friend Adam (also
blonde and an ex-rugger) doesn't. Adam becomes Tasha's fifth
girlfriend --- but he wants more, as is evident to everyone but
her. Tasha meanwhile is busy fending off the male anchor's clumsy
advances, tut-tutting over her girlfriend Mel's low self-image, and
worrying about why she hungers for first-date flutters so much
(really, first-something-else flutters).
Adam does get up the nerve to share his true feelings with Tasha,
and they embark on a relationship that falters from lack of the
flutters Tasha craves. Meanwhile, back at the Four Friends Ranch,
Mel's long-term live-in has left and she has found new love and new
hair, Emma is planning the perfect wedding, and Andy (the Samantha
Jones of this group) may have found the last notch for her bedpost.
While they gallop off into the conclusion, Tasha makes the biggest
mistake of her life and then has an "Aha!" moment that allows her
to graduate from therapy straight into a date with Adam. All's well
that ends well, and all that cheers mates!
I know publishers want to capitalize on popular authors, and Jane
Green's more recent writing is of the kind that gives Chick Lit a
good name --- BOOKENDS, for example, was a fun and witty novel in
which the gang-of-four formula was tweaked enough to make it
interesting. STRAIGHT TALKING will appeal most to Greenaholics;
others may want to skip directly to the author's later work.
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on January 23, 2011