Gal Pals

Best friends

Valley of the Dolls (now 50 years old; more about that in a later blog), TV’s The Golden Girls, Taylor Swift and her girl squad; what do they have in common? All display the power of female friendship, “gal pals” if you will. Girl squads among celebrities are trending today, but female friendship has been around a long time. Real friendship can be hard to capture in fiction, but a few authors have managed. In honor of Women’s History Month, dive right in to the following literary works which succeed in expressing these close bonds among women.

 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, 1868

Okay, so the gal pals in this novel are sisters, but isn’t that often the closest friendship of all? Most of us read this long, meandering novel as pre-teens or teens. I wanted to be Jo the first time I read Little Women. Writing stories and actually having them published seemed so romantic when seen through Jo’s eyes. Reading it as an adult is a completely different experience. The four March sisters have very different temperaments, talents, and aspirations, but their relationships with each other are vital to the story. If you enjoy the novel, the Metropolitan Library System also holds four different productions of Little Women on DVD, the latest version starring Winona Ryder as Jo, Claire Danes as Beth, and Kirsten Dunst as young Amy.

The Group by Mary McCarthy, 1963

Mary McCarthy’s iconic novel tells the story of eight women, known to their 1933 Vassar classmates as “the group.” The story begins as the group meets after graduation for one member’s wedding, and ends years later at another’s funeral. The women in the group are very different, and their pursuits vary, but the one thing on which they all agree is that they do not want to become their parents. The Group was a bit shocking when it was published in 1963. The second chapter starts with Dottie’s first sexual experience and subsequent trip to the doctor to be fitted for a diaphragm; very shocking stuff for 1963. How does it hold up today? Dive right in and decide for yourself!

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg, 1987

This novel tells the tale through the narrative of dear old Mrs. Threadgoode, now living in a retirement home, as she tells the story of Idgie and Ruth, who ran a little café in Whistle Stop, Alabama in the 1930s, and whose love and friendship is an inspiration to us all.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, 1989

Usually considered to have more of a mother/daughter theme, The Joy Luck Club also involves a group of immigrant Chinese women who play Mahjong and share their stories. There is often tension between the immigrant mothers and their American-raised children as the cultures collide, but the female friendship bond remains strong. They carry each other through good times and bad.

The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer, 2008

A group of four well-educated New York friends, who put away their careers to raise their children, begin to doubt their life choices. Women often face these conflicts, and Meg Wolitzer describes it brilliantly. Again, the characters are very different, but the friendship bond among them is very strong.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, 2012

Two close friends grow up together in Naples, Italy in the 1950s, remaining friends despite the different paths life has cut out for them. This one will remind you of that friend you don't see as often as you'd like, but with whom you pick up right where you left off when you see her. My Brilliant Friend is the beginning of the Neopolitan Novels series, the most recent being book 4, The Story of the Lost Child.

Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg, 2013

Have you ever thought of selling your home and most of your possessions and just starting over? I think this is a common fantasy, and in this book, Cecilia does just that. After selling her house, she moves into a beautiful old house with three women she’s never met (sounds like a good plot for a horror movie, doesn’t it?), then takes a road trip with them where many personal issues are resolved, and friendship blossoms.

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