I can easily see why Husbands May Come and Go, But Friends Are Forever, hereafter shortened to Husbands, by Judith Marshall, has been optioned for the big screen. It's one of those stories that will make you laugh out loud and cry silently, with many heaving sighs sprinkled throughout.
Marshall has written a book that makes me glad that I love to read. Part of the reason it took me a while to write this review is because I was casting the characters in my mind. It was a quick read, but I really wanted to take time to think about my characters.
Husbands is a story of a group of friends who have known and supported each other through decades of life, struggles, tragedies and triumphs, five of whom have to come together once more in the wake of the unexpected and mysterious death of the sixth.
Although Marshall's characters, Liz, Karen, Arlene, Gidge, Rosie, and Jo, are a generation of women who came of age in the 1950s and early 60s, they are like any group of girlfriends, from any place, from any time. Having met as teenagers, they soon become something like "The Six Musketeers," making pacts and vows to never keep secrets and tell each other everything. Told from the point of view of Liz, the level-headed, Husbands is a series of thoughts, memories, and conversations, weaved together by a tragic event and the aftermath of the surviving friends trying to cope, understand, and heal, as well as uncover a couple of secrets untold.
Liz is the level-headed one, almost too level-headed for her own good. She was a struggle for me at times. She's only had one husband, Ricky, (a Tony Curtis or Robert Wagner type) who left her when the kids were still young. We learn through a series of flashbacks, that Liz had trouble liking herself growing up, and I wondered if that trouble might have had something to do with her "trouble" with choosing a life with her smart, witty, good-looking, generous, kind, successful, emotionally stable, faithful boyfriend, Sam, (Gregory Peck, in my mind) after she'd lost her job to a company merger. She got on my nerves, a little bit.
Who would really be torn over the kinds of decisions Liz tortured herself with? Oh yeah. The same one who wouldn't be satisfied to be a Maureen O'Hara in a sea of Esther Williamses. Geez Louise. I'd make Grace Kelly, Janet Leigh, or Joanne Woodward my Liz. Or, if Maureen O'Hara, I'd change Sam to Brian Keith.
Arlene is the friend that everybody either has, or is. The one who is a shameless flirt, maybe even something of a floozy, who thinks she's more attractive than she really is, but makes up for her genetic shortcomings with self-esteem. If you don't have a friend like Arlene, you are Arlene. She's also once divorced. I would choose the girl who played Erin in "The Waltons," or the lady who played Flo on "Alice" to be Arlene.
Jo is the mostly mousy, but has some spunk (if you coax it out of her) friend. She's found her footing after leaving her high school sweetheart-turned-abusive husband, later becoming highly successful in real-estate. I would cast Sally Field for Jo.
Rosie, the only one who has never been divorced, and so can afford to be "so pious" (Liz' words) is the goody-goody of the group. She's also an apparent health nut, who likes to run. I dig Rosie for being a middle-aged mama who's still got all of her act together. She's the cryer, the emotional center, or emotional wreck of the group, depending on the time of day. For Rosie, I'd go with Jane Powell. Think Millie, in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."
And then there's Gidge. Fabulous Gidge. Married four times, and proud of every bit of it. She's the crap-talking, while taking no crap, wise-cracking, calling it like she sees it, fun one. I call her the hub of the circle. It was Gidge who brought the others together. My Gidge would be Lucille Ball, red hair and all. Or Rosalind Russell in her Mame-like character.
And finally, there's Karen, the fallen angel. To say that Liz worshiped Karen would be about accurate, which is why I had trouble with the fact that Liz "was never able" to tell Karen how much she loved her. That bothered the crap out of me. You've been friends for 40+ years. Surely, the opportunity to tell each other, "I love you," must have presented itself a few times.
Karen, who had been married three times, has layers and layers that are peeled back slowly by Liz and the others, who spend days contemplating what led to or contributed to her untimely accident. We see the sweet side, the vulnerable side, the bold, mischievous, fun-loving side, the warm and nurturing side. But was it an accident? And if it wasn't an accident, who was the culprit? I was glad this book didn't lend itself too much to the whodunnit, or did-they-do it angel. She would have been played by a young-to-middle aged Farrah Fawcett, or Marylin Monroe.
Well, to say the ending is happy would be an untruth; but there is happiness and healing, which is why I gave this book a full five stars, instead of the four that Liz kept asking for. After over 3/4 of the way through the book, the mystery of Karen's death unravels into a neat pile of heart strings (not sure how much I really liked that explanation, seemed somewhat out of place); while Liz's life finally weaves itself together into a comfortable place, the minor snags working themselves out.
At the end of Husbands, I found myself pleased. Obviously, I recommend this book to others. And I'd be interested to see who other readers cast in certain parts.