To My Dearest Friends
By Patricia Volk
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307263605, 208pp.)
Publication Date: April 17, 2007
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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What happens when you find out something you wish you didn’t know? From the critically acclaimed author of Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family (“Taut, sharp . . . Vibrantly textured” —The New York Times Book Review; “Unnervingly delightful” —The Miami Herald ), here is a smart, generous novel about two New York City women, the bonds of friendship, and the power—and responsibility—of secrets.
Alice, the proprietor of a chic Madison Avenue resale shop, and Nanny, a Carnegie Hill real-estate broker, have never met before, but they have one thing in common: their best friend Roberta, who has just died of cancer. Roberta has trusted them with her last request—that together they open her safe-deposit box. What they discover inside compels two very different women to join forces on a journey neither really wants to take.
Wryly observed, and rich with the atmosphere of New York City—from the Gotham salad at Bergdorf’s to the “Classic 6” apartment with OPW views (Other People’s Windows)—To My Dearest Friends is a serious book that happens to be funny: a novel of real feeling and real life, about how what we hide from those we love can take us places we never imagined we’d go.
Patricia Volk is also the author of the novel White Light and two collections of short stories, All It Takes and The Yellow Banana. Her stories, book reviews, and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, New York, The New Yorker, Playboy, Redbook, GQ, The Quarterly, and O, The Oprah Magazine, and she was a weekly columnist for New York Newsday. She lives in New York City.
“To My Dearest Friends has an irresistible premise: Two weeks after Roberta ‘Bobbi’ Bloom dies, her lawyer calls her two best friends, Alice Vogel and Nanny Wunderlich, to his office. Why? Because Bobbi has given them keys to a safety deposit box. And now the lawyer has a letter for them from Bobbi. Alice and Nanny–who have nothing in common but their friendship with the deceased–go to the bank. In the box, they find another letter. A love letter. To Bobbi. Undated. With no further instructions. . . . Obviously, Alice and Nanny can’t agree what to do next. But in the course of not agreeing they have reasons to get together. And we get two treats along the way: wonderfully sharp dialogue and observations, and a quick but deep look into the lives of two New York women. . . . I hoovered this book in an evening. . . . How does it turn out? With a fantastic surprise. . . . To My Dearest Friends is an addictive urban adventure story. Nancy Drew for the post-menopausal. Chick-lit for grown-up chicks. And, just maybe, the first novel about New York women to ring a bell for readers in the ‘burbs since The Devil Wore Prada. You don’t have to be 50-plus to enjoy To My Dearest Friends. Or even a woman. You just have to like ‘smart.’”
–Jesse Kornbluth, HeadButler.com
“Charming . . . A disarming story about marriage, friendship and choices that are kept secret until there’s a reason to give them away. . . . We see things from [Nanny and Alice’s] points of view, which is wonderful because, although they are very different, they share a city (New York graces every page), a wry intelligence and a wit perfected by years of experience.”
–Anne Stephenson, Arizona Republic
“A mischievous novel featuring two amateur sleuths seeking clues about their deceased friend’s secret lover.”
“Patricia Volk’s new novel–clever, funny, light . . . [with] a sly twist at the end–celebrates a precious urban resource: working women in their late 50’s and early 60’s, whose children have left home and who now have the space to reflect on their lives and to catalog the wonders and curiosities of the metropolitan landscape. . . . They are the city’s true grown-ups. In To My Dearest Friends, two such women, Nanny and Alice, are brought together by the last will and testament of a mutual friend, Roberta, who died three months earlier. Roberta has left them a letter locked away in a safe-deposit box, a steamy missive from an unknown lover. . . . [Nanny and Alice]–two very different women, each wary of the other–come to life on the page. . . . The result is agreeably intimate, a double portrait grounded in the detail of daily life. . . . [Ms. Volk] deals in individuals, not types. . . . To My Dearest Friends is a novel about privacy and secrecy, the difference between them and the various reasons why we need both. But Patricia Volk doesn’t hammer at her theme; she treats it like a topic worth tossing around, not the moral of the story. After all, she also has another, jollier topic to entertain us with: the abiding mystery of friendship.”
–Adam Begley, New York Observer
“Some writers have a magically light touch . . . . Patricia Volk’s sparkling new novel, To My Dearest Friends, will appeal to the same demographic as Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck. It’s the kind of book you read aloud from until friends beg you to stop so they can get their own copy. When Roberta, a family therapist, dies of breast cancer in her early 60s, she leaves instructions for her two best friends to open a safe deposit box together. Thrown together by this odd request, the two women, who dislike each other at first sight, find a passionate letter from a lover they never knew Roberta had. What to do with this unwanted information? Prim, snooty Alice . . . thinks they should tear up the letter and forget about it, sparing Roberta’s widower and daughter any possible hurt. Nanny Wunderlich, “a lapsed therapist” turned realtor . . . feels there must be a reason Roberta wanted them to know about this lover. She decides to do some sleuthing, repeatedly enlisting reluctant Alice’s help. . . . Volk writes movingly about love and loss, but she sets a resilient tone with an epigraph from Tom Stoppard: ‘Happiness is equilibrium. Shift your weight.’ . . . . Volk’s novel is very much a New York City book, and she gets the details right . . . More important–and what helps make Dearest Friends such an irresistible confection–Volk captures the profound importance of the deep connection between close women friends. Husbands and male buddies are all well and good, but female friends can relate on a different plane to mammogram terror or how even an improbable affair with no future can make you feel ‘connected to the human history of passion.’ Which brings us to another element that distinguishes Volk’s novel: elder-sex. Volk isn’t afraid to spell it out: even aging bodies have libidos. She’s writing about a generation that protested war and rallied for equal rights. It’s a generation that will not go gently into that good night.”
–Heller McAlpin, Newsday
“A book about the intensity and beauty of life after 50. . . . Yes, now the awful exodus begins. A few good friends are dying or have already died. Patricia Volk does not deny this sorrow. She romps right through it. This novel, about women brought together after the death of a mutual friend, is funny from the get-go, and a dear, timeless tale by its end.”
“A heat-seeking missive sets off the action of Volk’s deliciously mischievous new novel. Safely ensconced in her urn, the late Roberta (Bobbie) has entrusted a passionate and potentially explosive love letter to two friends who barely know–and don’t particularly like–each other. Nanny is a good-hearted ‘lapsed therapist’ turned real estate broker; Alice is a list-making, hyper-educated former Yeats scholar whose mantra is clearly ‘cast a cold eye.’ Ping-ponging between the two women’s points of view, we eavesdrop on their thoughts, watch them spar (‘I was her best friend,’ says Alice. ‘You were her oldest friend,’ Nanny corrects), drop in on their worlds. Who is the mystery lover, and what on earth was Bobbie thinking? Acutely observed, peppered with sharp insights, and steeped in native New Yorkiness, this deceptively light book has a lot to say about the complexity of friendship, the use and abuse of secrets, and the restorative power of love.”
–Amanda Lovel, O, the Oprah magazine
“Nanny Wunderlich and Alice Vogel are unlikely friends. Nanny, a psychotherapist turned realtor, is a bohemian widow . . . Alice, a third generation proprietress of an upscale thrift shop that caters to chauffer-driven ladies, is as uptight as Nanny is loose . . . The two are thrust together when their mutual friend Bobbie dies. After a lawyer contacts them, they meet for the first time to decide what to do about the contents of a safety deposit box–one letter from a lover neither knew Bobbie had. As they work to unravel the mystery of the unknown paramour, their relationship deepens. It’s Sex and the City for the middle-aged, a celebration of female friendship. At the same time, the novel wryly comments on aging, long-term love, parenting, and city life. Volk has written a small gem. Women–and perhaps men, too–will read it and immediately want to push it on every friend and acquaintance. Highly recommended”
–Library Journal, starred review
“Wonderful . . . compelling. There’s so much I love about To My Dearest Friends. It is at once sparkling and mature, hilarious and moving. I needed to know what happens next so badly that only darkness forced me to get up and turn on the lamp. What a great story of friendship, and of grown-ups’ capacity for growing up and enriching their lives! My hat’s off to Patricia Volk.”
“Fans of Volk’s critically acclaimed memoir, Stuffed: Memoirs of a Restaurant Family, will be pleased to find her effortlessly amusing and wise voice behind her accomplished second novel. Alice Vogel, a 62-year-old married Upper West Sider (and proprietress of an Upper East Side boutique), meets for the first time, Nanny Wunderlich, a 59-year-old widowed therapist-turned-real estate agent, when the two are made co-executrixes of their dead friend Roberta’s safe deposit box. In it, they discover a letter from an unnamed lover (Roberta was married) and team up to discover just with whom it was that their dear friend had been clandestinely sleeping. Alice and Nanny . . . are fully realized New Yorkers, and . . . they have real, stinging insights into later life in the big city. It’s Volk’s easy depth that makes this book a winner.”
“Patricia Volk writes with singular charm and wit. Her women are devoted and knowing: they know about loyalty, and what happens when love and morality collide.”
–Amy Hempel, author of Reasons to Live and The Collected Stories
“A wickedly well written novel that captures New York at our moment–when a woman is not just a woman, but a widow, a mother, a daughter, a best friend and a lover. And it is a reminder that despite how well we think we know our best friends, our spouses and ourselves, there is always something new to be discovered. Patricia Volk’s novel is a wry, deftly turned, heartfelt adventure celebrating the comedy that is life. I ate it–I mean I read it–in two bites.”
–A.M. Homes, author of This Book Will Save Your Life
“To My Dearest Friends is a sublime and intoxicating New York City novel. The fine writing makes this book suitable for savoring, but most readers will find it difficult not to quaff it in one delightful, delicious gulp.”
–Peter Cameron, author of The City of Your Final Destination
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