Vacation read #3 was I'm So Happy For You, by Lucinda Rosenfeld (previously discussed on the blog here). It's about Wendy Murman, a mildly discontent Brooklynite magazine editor who is married and trying to get pregnant. Her best friend from college, Daphne, while beautiful and well-liked, has always been a bit of a mess – involved with inappropriate men, lacking a career, and highly dependent on her friends to get her through her dramatic episodes. Whatever was lacking in Wendy's own life, she was at least always able to feel superior to Daphne, because her life was stable and, at least from the outside, had the benchmarks of thirtysomething success.
At the beginning of I'm So Happy For You, though, this delicate balance is upset. Daphne meets a new, attractive man who falls in love with her and proposes within a few short months. Even though the man is a boor, Wendy cannot help the feelings of resentment and jealousy that arise in her as Daphne instantly and effortlessly achieves what Wendy has painstakingly built up over many years. And when Daphne announces her pregnancy shortly after her wedding, Wendy simply cannot take it anymore. Her bitterness and jealousy completely override her ability to appear happy for her friend, and the relationship between the women completely collapses.
I'm So Happy For You was entertaining and fun to read. There are a lot of New York cliches peppered throughout its pages, and while it's hard to find a decent woman in the whole book, there are a lot of passages about friendship that ring true. Here is one that I liked:
How odd it was that friends could be the source of so much pleasure and solace, Wendy thought, with their constant assurances that you were all in it together, lamenting lost opportunities, laughing at inside jokes. At the same time, they could devastate you doing nothing more than going about the business of their lives, lives that had no direct bearing on yours. They weren't family members. You didn't generally have sex with them. You didn't generally work in the same office with them, either. Yet it was impossible not to see your lot in direct relation to theirs – impossible, therefore, not to feel defensive and even devastated when they did things you hadn't done, or simply did them differently (and now it was too late for you to go back and do them again).
This book took me back to the years – and there were many of them – when I felt like my friends were all "ahead" of me and having the life that I thought I should be having. "It's not a race," my best friend and I used to say to each other, but deep down, it sure felt like a race. It's easy now to dismiss those feelings of jealousy and insecurity as immature, but at the time, that "devastation" described in the passage above was palpable and real.
And of course that insecurity is intensified in New York City. Here's another passage I liked:
Wherever you were on the socioeconomic spectrum, it never felt like you had enough. You still needed an extra million (or two or three) to become the person you were supposed to be, the person you saw others becoming. Just as those people who were ahead of you were clearly cheating you out of your rightful due in a ruthless zero-sum game. That was how the city increasingly made Wendy feel. She felt an unbridgeable chasm opening up between herself and Daphne.
So that's the good. What I didn't like: Wendy. She was just SO insecure and self-absorbed that I found her unrelatable. I think Rosenfeld could have made Wendy less two-dimensional and not have lost any of the power of the book. By creating such an unlikeable character, Rosenfeld lessened the universal impact of the book for me. I kept thinking as I read it, "Thank god my best friend and I aren't like this." And some of the other women, while entertaining, were too exaggerated to be real. I'd rather read an analysis of more complicated, textured women friendships than about the women in this book, some of whom approached caricature status.
Overall, though, I did really enjoy I'm So Happy For You, and I recommend it to anyone who lived through (or is living through) those unsettling years when you are trying to get a life and not hate the people around you who have one.