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BFFs who are pretty shallow

July 17, 2009|Amy Wallen | Wallen is author of the novel "MoonPies and Movie Stars."

It's a scorcher of a summer. One when the sun lulls a beachgoer to sleep on the warm sand and a lackadaisical mind meanders between dreaming and wakefulness. Taking a plunge into "Best Friends Forever," Jennifer Weiner's latest novel, I expected a well-tanned afternoon read about friends with a bond that anyone would envy -- not one quite this pale.

The story opens on the night of a 15-year high school reunion, with Valerie Adler, local TV weather girl in Chicago, taking a cellphone photo of a naked man in a parking lot. "You ruined my life!" she tells him, a refrain heard throughout the book. A refrain shared by Addie Downs, in separate instances about the same high school jerk. A refrain that is at its best a tepid exaggeration, and at its worst is a clumsy device to make the reader keep reading.

Having not seen one another since they graduated (Addie didn't come to the reunion), Valerie shows up at Addie's house after thinking she's run over the cad.

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So many flashbacks

Through a series of flashbacks, told by Addie, we expect to unfurl a close friendship of two girls who for some reason became estranged until brought back together by the incident. The expression "best friends forever" brings to mind a long relationship of bonding, sharing secrets, dreaming together, competing, maybe fighting, but eventually supporting one another. Instead, "BFF" is Addie's story. With Valerie inked as a one-dimensional caricature, it appears unlikely the author could have developed a compelling relationship between the two. Instead, Weiner chooses to tell the tale of Addie Downs' tragic life.

"This isn't 'Days of Our Lives,' " Valerie claims. Perhaps Valerie is wrong. This line alludes to the amnesia the friends jokingly wished upon the high school jerk. While the friends realize a case of amnesia is too far-fetched, apparently Weiner does not: Addie's brother suffers from short-term memory loss as a result of a teenage car accident and lives in a home. Addie's parents both died when she was a teenager (father: aneurysm, mother: breast cancer a year later).

To round out the soap opera theme, Addie became tragically obese due to a teenage eating disorder but lost the weight before the opening of the book. A healthy portion of flashbacks takes us through the entire weight loss program, topped off with the requisite affair with a married man.

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C'mon, get real

Addie hasn't had an easy time of it, but the melodrama, with its full set of "ruined my life" events, could tempt some readers in.

Conversely, little is known about Valerie's life. She does talk Addie into a spontaneous road trip as she did once before when they were younger. The antics they embark upon could have produced a "Thelma & Louise" aspect, but that never fully materializes due to their lack of desperation, the kind of desperation that creates the bond of "until death do us part," you know, Best Friends Forever.

Weiner has created a world that demands too great a suspension of disbelief. That a long-lost friend would show up at her high school chum's childhood home, assume she still lived there and not expect her parents to open the door? That a bank teller would just say yes to a robbery as long as you stashed some of the cash in her car on your way out? Or that a puddle of blood that is big enough to be noticed in the dark of night could also be small enough that the bleeder can get up and run away unharmed?

"Best Friends Forever" may please Weiner fans who love her knack for strong one-liners. It's worth a toss in the beach bag. But expect a spray-on tan in the end.

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