Wow! This was one  of the best reads I have had in a long time. The Best of Everything takes you back to the glam facade of middle class working girls in 1950s Manhattan.

I have the edition that I linked to from my local library, and it comes with a Foreword from the author, which is really worth reading. It’s not a theoretical analysis of her book; it’s just a where on earth did this book come from and how did it get into your hands little blurb. She talked about how they had different typists making copies of different parts of the manuscript after she had finished it and the frantic calls the author received begging for the other parts of the book. And that certainly increased my anticipation. The Wall Street Journal ran a little blurb about this book within the past month or so, and that’s how I came upon this great find.

As I began reading, I confess to imagining something very a la That Touch of Mink or even 9-5 (too late, I know, but the secretarial pool bit is right on). Girls a dime a dozen in New York. Some pretty, some plain. All trying to earn enough to have a little apartment and experience city life before they settle down. And plenty of men who are old enough to know better who are chasing girls half their age. The book follows four girl’s stories closely and throws in a couple of other girls to round out the story. I liked it because Ms. Jaffe was really able to describe all of the various desires girls might have at that point in history and at their ages: earnestly seeking career to job while marriage hunting to job while celebrity hunting to job to pay for the wedding next year to career seeking but single mom trying to make it.

In thinking of the title, I think I understand a little of what JAffe was getting at, especially in my shoes a mom, wife, and fulltime professional. Those women back then were just beginning to contemplate what having everything could be. And the book does a great job of illustrating just how badly things can go when you chase after an illusion of reality that you’ve created, and the coldness of waking up with the illusion pulled down. It raises the question of whether you can have the Best of Everything.

As with most books that I seem to read lately, it starts out pretty slow. I was interested in the girls’ lives but not so gripped that I didn’t shrink a little from the fine print and the 430-some odd beefy pages. And then I turned a page and was sucked in. I had to stay up late (and go into work a little late ;)) to see what happened. I cheered for some of the girls, said amen sister a few times, and cried a few tears here and there as well.

Ms. Jaffe commented in her Foreword that she was always mystified when girls wrote her and told her after reading the book that they were inspired to go to Manhattan because the author thought of her book as more of a cautionary tale. I see that side too. It’s the pain of a million small and large wrong decisions that you make along the way as you try to figure out what life means to you and what you want to demand back from it. It’s the pain, stress and worry about budgets, young love, office lechers, and the internal clock ticking a little louder each year. I did not feel like the book had a happy ending. Well, one of the girls had a happy ending, but of the other three, one ends in tragedy, one ends in an awakening that you know will have her in the depths of despair for a long time to come as she tries to parse out what she has made of her reality, and one seems like she’s going to live the life she always should have, but her relationship is based on illusions too. And no illusion can last forever and you just walk away from it thinking it’s going to bite her in the ass one day.

And I think that was the perfect way to end the book. Life is rarely about happy endings. It’s usually about making do with what you’ve got and trying to pretty that up as best as you can. And that’s what Jaffe’s characters seem to come to realize.

I’ve just re-read this review and it’s so horribly disjointed, but it’s because I don’t want to give anything away. It’s that good. Go, go now and reserve a copy at your library or just buy it. I promise you won’t regret it.

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