Sunday, January 2, 2011

Fireflies and friendship

I always want to post something clever around the first of the year, about the year in review or a new year's resolution pertaining to books, or something. But I honestly don't make new year's resolutions, and I was too lazy to dig through past posts to write a year in review. So I guess I'll just start 2011 in my usual manner, writing about a book I just finished.

I got Kristin Hannah's Firefly Lane because I'd heard of it at work and remembered the title. It was another book club selection by one of the clubs in my coverage area, and I figured that was as good a way as any to choose a book.

The book tells the tale of Tully and Kate. Kate is a quiet, geeky 'good girl' who grew up with loving parents and a younger brother. Tully was raised by her grandma because her own mother was a hippie and a drug addict, and is a larger-than-life personality. The two meet during one of Tully's rare stints in her mother's custody and become best friends. When Tully's grandma dies, she moves in with Kate's family to finish her senior year of high school. They attend college together, major in communciations together, begin working in TV news together. Along the way, their paths diverge. Kate falls in love, gets married, has children and stays at home with them. Tully becomes a bigger and bigger name in TV news, ultimately so big that the news can't contain her and she gets her own Oprah-style show.

If this sounds familiar to you, I guess that means you've seen "Beaches." And like that film, it has the same sort of punch-you-in-the-face sad ending that comes out of nowhere. Firefly Lane is a weeper, that's for sure.

It's also, technically, not very good in a lot of ways. Most of the characters are archetypes. Kate is the Barbara Hershey character from "Beaches" to the hilt, ditto Tully with Bette Midler's character. Kate's husband is sort of a cardboard cutout of a handsome, successful man. Kate's mom is the archetypical Ideal Mom, who bakes cookies and dispenses wisdom, though there is a slight edge to her in the form of her wistfulness over the fact that she was born a decade too late for the feminist movement and never had the chance to even attempt going to college and pursuing a career. Tully's pursuit of her Big Break gets repetitive, as she gets about ten in a row.

But there is a lot of value here. One theme that the book explores a great deal is the difficulty of Having It All. Kate had this drilled into her growing up, and had a great deal of peer pressure to be a career woman with a family. When she gets pregnant, she renounces this to be the stay-at-home mom that she always secretly wanted to be, but expresses many times throughout the book that it's not quite enough. On the other side of the coin, Tully's eighteen-hours days which start at 2:30 a.m. are barely conducive to hookups, let alone any sort of longer-time relationship.

The message of being happy with your choices is also a strong one, though, with both sides declaring at the end of the book, that upon careful examination, they really were happy, so that conflict sort of gets washed away.

The book is also (until the last few chapters) a fun one. It's not really funny, but it makes you smile and feel good at many points.

Spoiler alert:
But I have to say, the sacrifice of The Quiet One kind of bothers me. Why is it always her that has to leave her kids before menopause? It would have been a little more interesting to see some introspection and serenity forced out of Tully, who is all smart remarks and courage during the final chapters (you know, like Bette Midler). The Quiet One's character is all about sacrifice, she always learns to just be happy for her friend, be happy with what she's given, be happy taking care of people and take what she's given. Why do they always have to kill her off, too?

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