“A man’s growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
I sat down to write this review in the same manner I write every review. I wanted to diplomatically describe the details of the book (something you can easily find on Amazon or Goodreads and therefore do not need me to repeat here). I was then going to give my impression of the book, where the author excelled, what was interesting about the plot, describe the challenges the four main characters faced in their lives (at home, at work, in love). All of this would have been interesting and informative but it would also be stagnant. It would be run-of-the-mill. It would be something you could find in the hundreds of reviews online or in magazines and newspapers. It would be something you could find just by reading the book yourself. (Which I highly recommend you do!)
Instead, I want to do things a little differently. I want to explore the theme of this book and how it relates to life. Because isn’t that why we read fiction in the first place? To learn more about ourselves, to understand our lives, our hopes, dreams, fears, and failings?
Friendship is crucial in life. It is an integral part of our happiness. Strong social ties are key to happiness. Gretchen Rubin in her book, The Happiness Project, routinely points out that “To be happy we have to feel strongly connected to other people.” She even has a post on her blog with 8 Tips for Making Friends. In that post she talks about how the “mere exposure effect” makes you like someone better. Basically, just by repeatedly seeing the same people, you will, in fact, like them better. Another tip she gives is to join a group. “Being part of a natural group, where you have common interest and are brought together automatically, is the easiest way to make friends.”
This is what happens in Valerie Frankel’s completely entertaining novel, Four of a Kind. Four women are brought together as part of a school diversity committee, each woman has a child in the same school. Ironically, the diversity committee is a very diverse group, women who would never be friends if not forced together. On a whim, the women end up playing a game of Texas Hold’em, but instead of money the currency is secrets. Secrets in their marriage, secrets with their careers, their children, their parents. Every woman has a secret in her life and even though she keeps them close to her heart and aches because of them, she is really just looking for the right person to tell. When these secrets (and worries and fears and hopes) begin to come out, the women realize they are bonded more closely than they ever could have imagined. These women found each other and as a result have built honest, beautiful, complicated relationships.
Rachel Bertsche’s website and book, MWF Seeking BFF, was devoted to the challenge of finding friendship once you are no longer in structured, friend-building environments (school, offices, teams). Her message struck a chord. Why is it so hard to make friends as you get older? Studies constantly point out the health benefits behind having friends. For example, did you know that gossiping with friends can help lower stress? Friends give you an impartial outlet to vent your frustrations. They can listen to your complaints, offer advice and guidance and be the shoulder to cry on. They can also help you find joy and happiness in life. They get you out of your routine and can help you discover new aspects of yourself.
It is easy to isolate yourself, to retreat into your own world and shut people out. Women often feel competition and jealousy, even with their closest friends. They strive to have the most successful life; the best clothes, career, husband, children, vacations. Women can sometimes see that green-eyed monster lurking when a friend’s life seems to be sunnier than their own. So in trying to prove that our lives are successful and that jealousy never crosses our mind we put on false fronts, fake faces. We live in a false sense of security with our hundreds of Facebook “friends.” But what about real, live interaction? An email message pales in comparison to lunch with a girlfriend.
By reading Four of a Kind you will find yourself longing to have the close friendships that evolve throughout the novel. You may not envy their struggles and fears, but you will rejoice in their successes and find yourself routing for all of them in the end. When you turn the last page you will have an immediate urge to call your closest friends and organize a girls night out. I highly recommend you do this!