In spite of their differences in family life and careers, Gerri, Andy and Sonja have been friends and exercise buddies for years. Gerri’s hectic lifestyle hasn’t stopped her from helping Andy through her relationship problems over the years, and both women appreciate Sonja’s positive attitude, even if they could do without some of her New Age advice. But one day, Sonja turns up on Gerri’s doorstep for their morning walk to discover that their simple, little suburban world is starting to crumble. Andy has just caught her husband cheating and is devastated to be going through her second divorce. Normally Gerri would offer a shoulder to cry on, but she’s recently discovered a secret from her husband’s past that is threatening to destroy her previously rock-solid faith in her marriage. And Sonja’s meditation and herbal remedies may not be enough to help her weather the storms coming along in her own life. Throw in teenage children who are experimenting with drugs, alcohol and sexuality, and these women don’t know where to turn. Will they be able to cling to each other during this difficult period, or will help come in the surprising form of their usually quiet and reclusive neighbour, BJ, who appears to have some secrets of her own?
I discovered Robyn Carr a little over two years ago, and I’ve been slowly working my way through her back catalogue ever since. Given the speed that she manages to write at (I believe she’s already released three new books this year alone), I don’t think I’ll ever get caught up, but that doesn’t stop me from jumping on each new book as it arrives. Four Friends is a little different from Robyn’s previous novels. While it centres around a community of close friends and features a healthy dose of romance, the protagonists are significantly older than those typically featured in her Virgin River and Thunder Point series, and the focus is more on the friendships between the female protagonists than their love lives. I’m not entirely sure if this book fits squarely into the categories of chick-lit or women’s fiction, but if you like a little more family drama than romance, this book might be a perfect fit.
I wasn’t entirely sure how well I’d relate to Gerri, Andy and Sonja, given that I’m significantly younger than them. I’ve no idea what it’s like to balance family life and a high powdered job, or how to handle a drunken teenager or a marital dispute. Fortunately, my lack of experience in these areas didn’t stop me from becoming interested in each woman’s situation and the dilemmas she faced.
This book could easily have become a depressing read, given the difficult situations each woman found herself in, but the close friendships the characters clung to enabled this book to be more encouraging than I initially expected. Even as it’s revealed that Gerri, Andy and Sonja are all having marital problems, their ability to weather the storms and push through their difficulties managed to prevent this book from becoming too discouraging. That’s not to say that Robyn brushes over the difficult subject matter and turns a serious situation into a fluffy, happy story—but she manages to deal with each issue as it arises, without the storyline feeling too preachy or disheartening.
Given the number of issues that arise over the course of this story, I wondered if some of them might be skimmed over or neglected. Surprisingly, it seemed like each issue was dealt with in a realistic manner, even in the case of small side stories that only appeared for a couple of chapters. I was definitely impressed with how Robyn dealt with the various topics that arose over the course of Four Friends, from mental illness to homosexuality to domestic abuse. That said, it did sometimes feel unbelievable that so many problems would crop up in such a short space of time, in such a small group of friends. In particular, what were the chances of all three protagonists having serious marital problems at the exact same time? This book may require a little suspension of disbelief with regard to all the drama that occurs over the course of the story.
Although I didn’t particularly relate to any of the women, they were all compelling characters, and their problems and family dynamics drew me into their lives. I was pleased to see Andy find happiness in spite of her two failed marriages, and waited patiently while Gerri came to terms with her husband’s secret and figured out how she wanted to move forward with her life. It was Sonja’s storyline that I initially thought I might relate to the most, given her interest in herbal remedies and the part that mental illness played in her storyline. For part of the story, her plot was the most intriguing to me simply because it was the most unexpected. But I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the developments Sonja’s character made. By the end of the book, she seemed like an entirely different character, but not necessarily in a good way. While it’s obvious that she’s gone through a massively altering experience, I wasn’t entirely sure how believable her abrupt change in personality and mannerisms was, or whether I thought she’d truly changed for the better. Even a week after finishing this book, I’m still not sure how I feel about Sonja.
Although we never really get to see the story from BJ’s point of view, I enjoyed the addition of her character, and the role she came to play in the story. It was encouraging to see such different women rallying together to help each other through difficult times, and BJ’s situation brought about some interesting questions that I’m sure book groups would love to discuss. I don’t want to spoil anything for potential readers, but BJ’s story certainly provided a lot of food for thought.
The family dynamics and diverse friendships that evolve as each character struggles to get a hold of their situation make for a very compelling read, and are accompanied by just enough romance to stop the book from ever feeling too dark or depressing. Four Friends may even reel in some new fans who wouldn’t normally pick up one of Robyn’s straight contemporary romances.
Disclaimer: This is a mainstream novel and contains several scenes of a sexual nature and some strong language.