To My Dearest Friends by Patricia Volk, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
To My Dearest Friends
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To My Dearest Friends

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by Patricia Volk
     
 

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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.

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Ann Hodgman
Yes, the book's plot seems tailor-made for airport bookshops and Diane Keaton movies, but in Patricia Volk's deft hands it's entirely redeemed. Volk, the author of three previous books of fiction as well as the memoir Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family, knows how to transform a workaday plot into something special: accessorize it! Every page is studded with precise and succulent detail…To My Dearest Friends is a cozy, kick-off-your-shoes-and-curl-up novel. If you happen to find it in an airport bookstore, you're lucky. Just make sure you remember to catch your flight.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

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.
Library Journal
Nanny Wunderlich and Alice Vogel are unlikely friends. Nanny, a psychotherapist turned realtor, is a bohemian widow who lives and works on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Alice is as uptight as Nanny is loose. A third-generation proprietress of an upscale thrift shop that caters to chauffeur-driven ladies, she strives for gentility and elegance. The two are thrust together when their mutual friend, Bobbie, dies of breast cancer. After a lawyer contacts them, they meet for the first time to decide what to do about the contents of a safety deposit box—one letter from a lover neither knew Bobbie had. As they work to unravel the mystery of the unknown paramour, their relationship deepens. It's Sex and the Cityfor the middle-aged, a celebration of female friendship. At the same time, the novel wryly comments on aging, long-term love, parenting, and city life. Volk (Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family) has written a small gem. Women—and perhaps men, too—will read it and immediately want to push it on every friend and acquaintance. Highly recommended.
—Eleanor J. Bader
Kirkus Reviews
Chic lit meets shtick lit in-where else?-New York, New York. Alice Vogel, 62, owns a high-fashion consignment boutique on the Upper East Side, speaks French to her mother and quotes Yeats. Alice is called the "Ice Maiden" by Nanny Wunderlich, 59, a widowed real-estate agent who dresses off the rack and supplies the comic kvetching. They're forced together when their late friend Roberta leaves them keys to her safe-deposit box, where they find a mysterious love letter Nanny feels compelled to investigate. The letter is a transparent plot device that Volk (Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family, 2001, etc.) uses to bind her Jewish odd couple and create suspense while exploring their family relations, Nanny with her dead husband and beautiful unmarried daughter, Alice with her infirm mother and sexually eccentric husband. Like some Woody Allen films, the book is too much about New York-the designers and bistros, the prices of apartments, the smell of certain streets-and people who think of themselves as New Yorkers, as if the designation alone entitled them to the reader's interest. With its late-life female bonding and a sweet lesbian finale, the novel may carry into Connecticut and New Jersey, but Volk, a former columnist for Newsday, is a predictable storyteller and smug stylist, as devoted to last season's witticisms as her clothier is to the almost fashionable. Volk's protagonists always have the same lunch at Bergdorf's, an easy-to-eat chopped salad; she serves up similar light fare.
From the Publisher
“Every page is studded with precise and succulent detail. . . . A cozy, kick-off-your-shoes-and-curl-up novel.” —The New York Times Book Review“Deliciously mischievous. . . . This deceptively light book has a lot to say about the complexity of friendship, the use and abuse of secrets, and the restorative power of love.” —O, The Oprah magazine“A book about the intensity and beauty of life after 50. . . . Funny from the get-go, and a dear, timeless tale by its end.” —More magazine “Sparkling. . . . It's the kind of book you read aloud from until friends beg you to stop so they can get their own copy. . . . An irresistible confection.” —Newsday"Clever, funny, light. . . . A novel about privacy and secrecy, the differences between them, and why we need both." —The New York Observer

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307263605
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/17/2007
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
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?

Yeats knew.

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:

RUN
NOTES W. YUMI
SKIM, COF. FILTERS, COMET
LUBA CHECKS
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.

FALL BAGS

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.

CALL CAMILLE

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?

TURKEY SAND/MOTHER
6—CLAUDIO’S
MADAMA BUTTERFLY!

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.

6:28.

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.

12:30—Glogowers—1136 Park

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.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Every page is studded with precise and succulent detail. . . . A cozy, kick-off-your-shoes-and-curl-up novel.” —The New York Times Book Review“Deliciously mischievous. . . . This deceptively light book has a lot to say about the complexity of friendship, the use and abuse of secrets, and the restorative power of love.” —O, The Oprah magazine“A book about the intensity and beauty of life after 50. . . . Funny from the get-go, and a dear, timeless tale by its end.” —More magazine “Sparkling. . . . It's the kind of book you read aloud from until friends beg you to stop so they can get their own copy. . . . An irresistible confection.” —Newsday"Clever, funny, light. . . . A novel about privacy and secrecy, the differences between them, and why we need both." —The New York Observer

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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