Review: The Best of Everything, Rona Jaffe

Not to be confused with The End of Everything! But read roughly around the same time. I know. I was really slow in reviewing this. I am just bad at reviews this years, you guys. I need to institute a system to make myself be more systematic.

Rachel (come visit soon, Rachel!) told me that she had to give me a book and for me to tell her what I thought about it, because she had loved it but it also made her really angry, and she wanted to know if my reaction would be the same. It was, except that I maybe did not love it quite as much, and it maybe did not make me quite as angry.

The Best of Everything is a book written in 1958 and dealing with four girls — women, I suppose — who live in New York and work, at least initially, in publishing. Caroline, coming off of a sudden break-up, wants to advance her career as an editor. April, who hails from flyover country (as vague as that is, I can’t even swear it’s accurate; maybe she’s from South Carolina, y’all, I don’t know), dreams of becoming an actress, while Gregg (a girl in spite of her weird dude name) actually becomes one. Barbara, a divorced single mother, tries to make ends meet. And find love. They’re all trying to find love. Love, incidentally, means marriage. JUST IN CASE YOU DID NOT KNOW.

Going in, I expected The Best of Everything to be quite like The Group, which I read earlier this year — and it was, in a way. It dealt with young professional women in New York (that’s what I am!) and made me massively glad that I live now instead of back in the day. But The Group also depressed the hell out of me from cover to cover, whereas The Best of Everything charmed me almost all the way through, then left me with a feeling of faint malaise at the end. I think The Group might be a better book altogether, but I’d be more likely to reread The Best of Everything. The thing about The Group is that the characters in it — while no less constrained by the norms of femininity in their time — kind of wanted different things.

Here we come to the crux of my (and Rachel’s) main problem with The Best of Everything, which is that all the characters wanted the same thing; i.e., love and marriage. And, look, I know that these were different times and that probably was what everyone really, really wanted, because of social norms etc. It just got depressing to see that although several of the characters were good at their jobs, and Caroline even sometimes made noises like her job was more important to her than Marriage, the main thing in their lives was whether the man they were sooooo in love with was going to propose. (They thought yes. Mostly the men thought no.) I liked the characters in exact proportion that they had other interests than Men, which is to say: Barbara, who had a kid; Caroline, who cared about her job; April, who liked shopping (look, I can sympathize); and in last place, Gregg, who I never didn’t want to slap.

In short, if you want to read The Group, but you can’t face the unrelenting misery (and it is p-r-etty unrelenting), read this instead. The writing is unexceptional but the story sails along at a nice clip so you never find yourself drifting away from the book and doing people-watching instead if you are reading on the subway.

They read it too:

Book Snob
Fleur Fisher in Her World
Curious Book Fans

Did I miss yours?