Women’s friendships, especially long-term ones, always interest this reader, as I suspect they do a great many baby boomers like me. So, I was eager to read Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah, which focuses almost entirely on this theme. Kate and Tully are friends for 40 years, beginning after Tully, a practically motherless, charismatic teenager, is raped, and Kate comforts her. They live on Firefly Lane. This is 1974; they are in the eighth grade.
The book centers on the two women’s friendship during high school and college on into adulthood, other relationships, careers, children, a husband, lovers, geographic moves. The friendship defines each of these women; it is central to who they are. That aspect of the novel is touching and generally rings true to experience.
That said, I was disappointed in the novel, overall. Kate and Tully are steadfast friends, and entirely different people. Kate is the good girl – she marries, has children, is mostly a stay-at-home mom, is giving to her core. She regrets few of her choices and is only occasionally jealous of Tully’s other type of success. She is selfless, apparently, martyring her interest in writing to be the perfect wife, mom, daughter and friend.
Tully is a beautiful woman with an almost insatiable ambition: to become a TV newscaster, a profession encouraged for both girls by Kate’s mother. Although Kate discovers this fast-paced, 12-hour-day work life is not for her, Tully goes full-tilt boogie, climbing the mostly-male career ladder, covering news around the world, and never quite settling down. She doesn’t marry or have children, and she does have a few regrets. “…
[S]he felt that strange sense of unraveling again. Of loneliness that was somehow just out of view, but moving toward her. For the first time, she wondered what her life could have been like if she’d been like Kate and chosen love,” wonders Tully in her early career-woman stage.
These women are almost stereotypes – good versus bad, conventional versus daring - rather than fully developed flesh-and-blood characters. Tully is mostly portrayed as a cold climber who occasionally is generous, especially with the millions of dollars she makes. She does become a role model for her best friend’s daughter (her goddaughter) as she has more exciting stories – and gifts – to offer the rebellious teenager than does her own
The book is long, over 400 pages. Once I reached the halfway mark, I was committed to completing the novel, but much of the plot
is predictable – the ways the women act, the things they value. The friends fight and make up, numerous times. For example, when they are college students, Tully says to Kate, “Miss Perfect with the best family and the flawless grades. I don’t even know why you hang around with me. I’m such a slut career hound.” Kate’s teenage daughter acts out. Her parents get older. Tully keeps trying to connect with her blood mother, a drug addict, an old hippy. Overall, it seems a bit difficult to imagine what they have in common after 20 or so years except, of course, for their dramatic beginning on Firefly Lane.
But the ending takes me by surprise. A major illness is involved; enough said. Interestingly, in the author’s notes following the novel’s conclusion, Hannah tells her readers why this was a major impetus in writing the book. This, at least, was not predictable for this reader.
Firefly Lane reads like a slightly above average romance. Hannah is a bestselling author
per The New York Times, but I suspect this is not her best novel. Other recent titles include
Magic Hour, Comfort and Joy and
Distant Shores. If you’re looking for a literary novel, this is not it. If you want a summer/beach/tear-jerker novel or one to carry you through the remaining dark days of winter, go buy this novel and sink right in. Teenage girls and /or young adults ought to find this a good read.
Then, call your best friend.