The New York Times
To My Dearest Friendsby Patricia Volk
Alice and Nanny have never met before, but they have one thing in common: their late friend Roberta. Alice is the prim proprietor of a chic Madison Avenue shop, while Nanny is a sharp-eyed Manhattan real-estate broker. This New York odd couple is thrown together when Roberta trusts them with her last request—that together they open her safe-deposit box.
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Alice and Nanny have never met before, but they have one thing in common: their late friend Roberta. Alice is the prim proprietor of a chic Madison Avenue shop, while Nanny is a sharp-eyed Manhattan real-estate broker. This New York odd couple is thrown together when Roberta trusts them with her last request—that together they open her safe-deposit box. What they find inside compels these women to address a surprising truth about their beloved Roberta. A profound yet hilarious novel, To My Dearest Friends is the story of two women and a journey of friendship neither chose to take.
The New York Times
Fans of Volk's critically acclaimed memoir, Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family, will be pleased to find her effortlessly amusing and wise voice behind her accomplished second novel. Alice Vogel, a 62-year-old married Upper West Sider (and proprietress of an Upper East Side boutique), meets, for the first time, Nanny Wunderlich, a 59-year-old widowed therapist-turned-real estate agent, when the two are made co-executrixes of their dead friend Roberta's safe deposit box. In it, they discover a letter from an unnamed lover (Roberta was married) and team up to discover just with whom it was that their dear friend had been clandestinely sleeping. Alice and Nanny's sleuthing is perfunctory, and their voices, in alternating first-person chapters (and some in third person), aren't distinct. But the two are still fully realized New Yorkers, and—beyond frequenting Zabar's and the Metropolitan Opera, and using words like "gazillion"—they have real, stinging insights into later life in the big city: "Charles laughs. If smell had form and color, I would be enveloped in puce haze the size of a hassock," says Alice of the husband she loves. It's Volk's easy depth that makes this book, perhaps the first piece of empty nest chick lit, a winner. (Apr.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Eleanor J. Bader
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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- 5.74(w) x 8.65(h) x 0.94(d)
Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: Alice Wakes
Naked Charles pads from his shower to his semainier. He would not dream of turning on our light. Charles assumes I am asleep. After so many years, he senses his way in the dark.
He slides a drawer, raising both pulls so it whispers. He extracts jockey shorts I fold so no seams show, each pair a white tuffet, his small daily gift. When we were newlyweds, Charles stood on one foot, then the other, a flamingo. Now he pulls his shorts up leaning against the wall. Someday he will collapse on our slipper chair, use his cane to spread the leg holes, then inch them up his calves. It is a privilege to watch your partner over time.
If soul may look and body touch,
Which is the more blest?
Charles steers his right foot in. I glimpse the silhouette of his bobbling apparatus. How perverse to cage it in clothes. All that flagrant manhood neatly squared away. He stretches on his undershirt. Watery light sculpts the muscle range of his back. No matter how soft Charles gets around the middle, his bent back stays bandy.
All these years and there’s pleasure yet watching him.
In the kitchen, Charles has put up coffee. I take a cup back to bed. November sun stipples trees along the Hudson. Leaves wink like sequins. Today will be perfect. There are, in a good year, perhaps ten such days in New York. They have nothing to do with temperature. They can come any season. No one can predict them. On these days the air is supercharged. There is more of something vital in it. People breathe deeper, walk taller. They pause to fill their lungs and smile without premeditation. Dogs high-step, their tails thrum. On these days the bus driver keeps the doors open when he spots you running.
Along Riverside Drive joggers wear down-filled vests, no gloves, no watch caps. Wind billows hair but not enough to backhand. I won’t need a coat. The gray cashmere scarf, perhaps. In my date book I check off yesterday:
NOTES W. YUMI
SKIM, COF. FILTERS, COMET
CALL MR. FLEISCHMAN
A slash through each except Fleischman.
Today is wall-to-wall appointments.
10 MR. OLIPHANT: 230 CPS
I’ll have to go downtown, miss my run. Why would Roberta’s lawyer want to see me? Does Betsy need a guardian? Betsy is thirty-one. Jack is alive. Oh Roberta. My poor darling.
11:30 MRS. VANDERVOORT
Mrs. Vandervoort. Normally I don’t open the shop till noon but Mrs. Vandervoort is terrified someone will see her in Luba and her things are awfully good. Luba is about nothing if not discreet accommodation.
How did that happen? Bags of winter inventory up to the ceiling. Here it is, almost December. They should have been on the floor after Labor Day.
She’s due January ninth. Could the baby’s head be down? Oh no. What if they ask us to participate in the birth? Is that an invitation one can decline?
A jam-packed day. Should I cancel the lawyer? Reschedule for late afternoon? Better to get it over with. Surely Roberta didn’t leave me anything else. She gave me a bracelet. Our last lunch at Café on 5.
“Alice.” She undid the clasp. “I want you to smile every time you look at it. You’ve got to promise me. Stop shaking your head, Alice.”
“I don’t want it, Roberta.” I said. “Keep it. Please. You’re going to need it.”
“Right.” She grabbed my wrist with stunning strength. “And O.J. was innocent.”
What would I have left you if I died first, Roberta dear? You coveted my shagreen eyeglass case. You never failed to admire Grand-mère’s lava-cameo bracelet. How I wish I had given it to you.
Gray silk blouse, gray cardigan. I prefer clothes the colors of the inside of an oyster shell. Gray slacks. I will make the most of this inconvenient morning. I will walk over to Broadway, pick up bagels for Mother at H&H, drop them with her doorman, then cut through the park at Seventy-second, take the West Drive, and exit on Central Park South. I’ll bring the puzzle, in case Roberta’s lawyer keeps me waiting. Then catch a Limited bus up Madison and be at Luba in plenty of time for Mrs. Vandervoort.
Marvelous coffee. Italian roast from Zabar’s. One peaked tablespoon per cup. Charles knows how I like it. The beauty of a marriage is its ongoingness. The staying together, the sharing of history, the appreciation of wrinkles and sag in flesh once known in its taut prime. And the longest stretches of all, the plowing comfort of the quotidian, intimacy with all its lows and reprieves. Marriage is like liver. It regenerates.
Chapter Two: Nanny Gets Up
It takes a crazy man to make a woman feel alive.
I roll toward you, launch an exploratory toe.
The sheets are ice.
Every morning it’s news. Every morning is Day One. Not that I dream you’re alive then wake up only to discover. Every night my cerebellum crashes. If you’ve been married to someone for thirty-two years and he’s been dead three, how long does it take to get used to waking up alone? Is there a formula? 32+3–x<365>:58+y=z?
Thirty-two years and you croaked on me.
Something important is happening today. What time is it? What good is a clock without glasses? Why don’t glasses have locator buttons like the phone? You press a button, your glasses beep and . . . There they are—innocent by the toaster. A locator for the phone book too. The cell. One giant locator screwed to the wall so you can locate the locator. The Master Locator. That’s it. I’ll make a mint. Missing glasses, the basic—no, innate—no, intrinsic irony: how can you find them if you need them to see them?
I’m supposed to be somewhere. Something important is happening today. Maybe they’re in the duvet. Shake it and stuff flies out: books, socks, spoons. Our bed, my bed, it’s the office now. Office, dining room, library. If three rooms fell off this place I’d never know. The bed is control central. Everything that matters takes place on it. Except what used to matter.
Bobbie. The important thing has to do with Bobbie.
Think. Take it slow. Rule out places 100 percent the first time so you don’t have to go back. Not on the end table.
End table done.
Think, Nanny. You got into bed at ten-thirty. Finished the Times. Turned out the light. Ah. Still on my head.
I clomp into the kitchen and by the time I reach the coffeemaker my ankles are broken in for the day. While it drips, I wake up my computer, hit the folder marked CALENDAR, and read November 20.
10—Mr. Oliphant—230 CPS. Right.
“Dear Mrs. Wunderlich,” the letter said. “I represent the estate of the late Roberta Heumann Bloom.”
I don’t get it. Why does Bobbie’s lawyer want to see me? She already gave me the bracelet. Who knew she had a lawyer? Who knew she had an estate? Two weeks ago she was alive.
The Glogowers. Got to find them a place. Meredith’s six months. Breaking my heart, these Glogowers.
3:30—the Kleckners—22 E. 87
Ken and Ricki. Royal pain.
Maybe she left me money. Wouldn’t that be something. I was her best friend. Bobbie worried about me and money.
“He’s tapping his TIAA-CREF?” she marveled. “Fred’s taking money out of his retirement fund?”
“He earned it, Bobbie.”
“That’s not the point, Nanny.”
What really made her nuts were our taxes.
“Let me get this straight. He points, you sign? You’re telling me you don’t look?”
And I’d say, “If I can’t trust Freddy, who can I trust?”
“Nanny”—she’d roll her eyes—“trust is not the issue.”
I print out today’s page and put it in my bag. In the bathroom, I wash my face—or, rather, cleanse it. In Makeup Court, soap gets you the chair. According to Flora, you must splash warm water, pat dry, dab on grapefruit cleanser, rinse, pat dry again, follow with kiwi toner to neutralize the pH factor, then study face in a 6X mirror. Not for the fainthearted.
“If no one can see I have one white hair on my chin, why do I have to tweeze it?” I asked my daughter. “Why do I have to see what’s wrong with me six times larger? Nobody looks at me with 6X magnification.”
Daily face inspection. Someone cares what I look like, even if it’s only me. Not that aging is bad. So you worry about a hair on your chin instead of a pimple. So your ankles are a little stiff in the morning instead of cramps five days a month. Aging is merely a substitution of things that alarmed you then for things that alarm you now. All of life has equal alarm weight. What should I be grateful for now that I don’t realize? What am I taking for granted one day I’ll miss? Knees! I never think about my knees! Women my age, women younger, have to ratchet out of a cab.
Bobbie’s lawyer. Jeez, I hope it’s money.
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Meet the Author
Patricia Volk is the author of the memoir Stuffed; the novels To My Dearest Friends and White Light; and two collections of short stories, All it Takes and The Yellow Banana. She has published stories, book reviews, and essays in dozens of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, New York, The New Yorker and Playboy. She was a weekly columnist for New York Newsday, and she lives in New York.
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