It’s a Monday, and let’s face it… I’d rather be on a beach. As luck would have it, I was offered a new title to review from Netgalley that is set in Jamaica. While visions of sand, surf, and fruity cocktails dance in your head, I’ll go ahead with my full disclosure statement. I may sound like a broken record, but here it goes again. I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Best of Us by Sarah Pekkanen is about a group of friends from college who take a trip to Jamaica to celebrate one of their 35th birthdays. You know how every group of friends has that one internet billionaire who randomly calls his friends from 15 years ago and offers them free vacations? Oh you don’t? Yeah me neither. But. Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and live in book land. If we can accept boy wizards and the occasional dragon, we can get down with the filthy rich.
Dwight the billionaire and his wife Pauline decide to treat Dwight’s college buddies to a week long Jamaican vacation complete with private plane and fancy chef. Their motley crew of guests is comprised of 3 couples, or at least it’s supposed to be. First, there’s Tina, an overwhelmed stay at home mother of four young children and her overly macho husband Gio. Next we have Allie, Tina’s BFF. Allie is a social worker with two daughters and a seemingly flawless marriage to her easy going husband Ryan. Finally there’s Savannah. Savannah has recently split up from her two timing doctor husband Gary, but doesn’t want to reveal that to the group. Instead she claims Gary is working, and she prances around in very little clothing and hits on every male in the general vicinity.
What follows during the week in tropical paradise puts all kinds of relationships to the test. Friendships, marriages, and the all important relationship between the really rich people and the help. Actually, it’s not at all about the help, but I’m still astounded by the lives of the rich and important. Who has this much money?! Seriously!
Okay guys. Honesty here. This book was not my favorite. It was a bit heavy on the melodrama for my tastes. I think part of my problem was a lack of connection with the characters, and that’s on me more than it is on the author. Of the four women in the novel, I didn’t see any representation of myself or my circumstances. I don’t have kids, so it was difficult for me to relate to the plight of Tina, the SAHM. The way Allie chose to handle her personal demons isn’t an approach I would have taken- keeping secrets to “protect” people seems counter productive to me. Pauline was really uptight and came from old money, so she hid her feelings pretty well, which I ALSO don’t get because my heart is forever out on my sleeve. I’m a crier, okay?! Savannah used her sexuality in a way that made me uncomfortable. I’m kind of a prude, and it bugged me that she was so open in her flirtations and was scantily clad all the time. It’s hard for me to connect with a book when I don’t empathize with the characters.
Also. Gio. I’m not sure what Pekkenan was going for, but he felt like a caricature to me. He’s Italian and super Catholic and has a breadwinner complex. Tina seems miserable as a stay at home mom, and it’s unclear to me whose decision it was that she stay home- it felt to me like Gio may have pushed that traditional ideal on her. (Don’t get me wrong- if you’re a SAHM and CHOSE that path for yourself, more power to you. I just got the feeling that Tina was kind of forced into it and that pissed me off.) He also gets competitive when faced with the massively wealthy Dwight and tries to childishly beat him at basketball and pinball. It’s hard to draw a clear line between cultural differences and flat out stereotypes, but Gio. I just don’t know about that guy. I LIKE flawed characters, but I just couldn’t get into this set of flaws.
HOWEVER. Just because I didn’t like this book, doesn’t mean you won’t. I would recommend this title to people who enjoy reading about marital strife, the complexities of friendship, drool worthy vacations and neatly packaged endings. If you’re a stay at home mom who is conflicted about her choices, you might just feel like Tina is your soul mate. Maybe you are an internet guru with an outlandish amount of money and would appreciate reading about your personal lifestyle in fictional form. I don’t know. Books are so often a matter of perspective. This didn’t suit mine, but it might just put the rum in your hurricane.
Bookworms, I must know. Do you feel the need to relate to and/or empathize with a character in order to enjoy a book, or are you able to appreciate it for its aesthetic virtues from a distance? I’m basically asking if I’m a giant jerk got not liking this book on shallow grounds. What are your thoughts?