Howard's Reviews > We Can Still Be Friends

We Can Still Be Friends by Kelly Cherry
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Feb 29, 08

bookshelves: books-i-reviewed-for-kirkus
Read in January, 2003


An unremarkable start--another thirtyish woman contemplating her unfulfilled singleness--builds into a rich, wise, and gently humorous group portrait of adults looking to connect to someone or something beyond themselves.

Ava, a professor of Women's Studies in Chicago, on sabbatical in Memphis, is informed by Tony, the stern, controlled, heart surgeon whose child she recently miscarried, that he is in love with Claire, a professor of Art History in LA, married to generous, devoted, Boyd, a successful and long-sober movie producer. Ava, smart, vulnerable but strong in her own way, and not completely stable--Tony, we later find out, met her in the locked ward of his hospital--feels cheated of both a man and the child she was meant to have, and seeks a crazy, logical, justice: while vain, imperious, Claire is in Chicago conducting her affair with Tony, Ava flies to LA, seeks out Boyd, and requests impregnation. Boyd, much better than Ava at suppressing an equally complex inner life, fears losing Claire, who has broken their long-standing unspoken agreement by letting her affair with Tony grow serious. Looking for a way to transcend himself, swayed by the momentousness of creating a life, something Claire can't do, Boyd capitulates. There's a lot going on here: Cherry has smart things to say about academia, race, men, women and identity, and, given her compelling, entertaining prose--she's controlled enough that she's free to loosen up and play--this could have been a diverting, middle-brow soap, just serious enough that readers could pat themselves on the back for enjoying it, but, told in passages that inhabit each of the four main characters' perspectives in turn, sometimes retelling the same scene from each, it becomes a moving exploration of isolation and connection propelled by plot to a surprising, inevitable conclusion, an emotionally resonant epiphany that answers to both character and circumstance.

A surprising and rewarding mix of technique, ideas, and genuine emotional insight.

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