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CR3 #30: The First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith

I saw the movie of The First Wives Club before I read the book. It's a cute chick flick, in which scorned women take comedic revenge on their former spouses. They become better friends and everyone winds up happy in the end. I was somewhat surprised (though not much--the differences between film and literature are often wide) at how different the book was--I am used to changes in plot or small character changes (combining two characters into one, or perhaps changing to a more pleasant ending) but the major change here between novel and movie was the tone.

The story is basically the same; After a close friend's suicide, three middle-aged female friends get together and beginning reviewing their lives. They realize that much like their late friend, they have been screwed over by the men in their lives--the men used them to get to their high social and financial positions, then screwed them over both personally and financially. The three women decide to use their wits and their connections to punish the men who have treated them poorly.

The book is much darker than the movie--the husbands are terrible people, but then again so are most of the society people the women meet. The worst is their dead friend Cynthia's husband Gil, and the wives vow that he will pay for the way he drove Cynthia to her death. He plays a much larger part in the book, and is closely connected with the other three husbands. The wives are all complex characters with their own strengths and flaws. Annie is a reserved housewife, who has spent most the past sixteen years devoted to a daughter with Down's syndrome. She dreams of being a writer, but gave up her ideals when she married her husband Aaron. Now, Aaron has left Annie to marry her former therapist. Brenda is an Italian-Jewish woman who fills the void in her life with food now that her husband--an appliance salesman and local TV celebrity--has left her for a young gallery owner. Elise, the last member of the group, is an aging actress from a very wealthy family. Her repressive upbringing combines with the difficulties of being an aging woman in Hollywood and the desertion of her husband Bill to lead to drinking and bad choices. All three women realize that beyond taking revenge on their former husbands, they also need to take charge of their own lives.

On the whole I liked the book--the punishments for the husbands were more brutal (though not as creative) as in the movie, but seeing the men getting what they deserved was definitely satisfying. The women were also multi-dimensional, and not just harpies out for revenge. The side characters were definitely amusing--including a gay interior decorator who learned English watching Desi Arnaz, a crusading SEC investigator, a naive paparazzo, and the other eccentric members of New York's high society--and lent a certain amount of variety to the proceedings. This is definitely "chick lit," but it's at least both well-written and not insulting to women of intelligence.

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