Best Friends
Thomas Berger
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Best Friends

Thomas Berger
Simon & Schuster
224 pages
May 2003
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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With his usual mastery, John Berger dissects a twenty-year friendship between two men who have bonded since early adolescence. Expertly probing beneath the surface, Berger defines the parameters of the quite different yet compatible men. The focus on male long-term friendship is particularly appealing, as it's a subject infrequently addressed.

Berger cleverly engineers the plot and characters: two best friends and the wife of one, who ultimately triangulates their respective loyalties. But Roy Courtwright, a man who treats his lovers admirably, hasn't had many personal exchanges with Sam Grandy's wife, Kristin. In fact, Roy has kept purposefully distant, careful to maintain the balance of the friendship and the marriage.

Like a long-term marriage, the friendship has settled into predictable patterns and to their credit, Roy and Sam's banter has never gotten hurtfully personal. When the overweight Sam has a heart attack, Roy is frightened, if not shocked. Unwilling to burden his hospitalized friend with current troubles, Roy turns to Kristin as a substitute.

In the course of conversation, Kristin mentions things Sam has said about his friend, words that sound to Roy like betrayal. In doing so, Kristin inadvertently illuminates a part of the men's relationship long ignored. Hearing the thinly veiled animosity in Sam's remarks, Roy is hurt and surprised. Loyalty and integrity are paramount to Roy's wellbeing, while Sam appears ambivalent about such values. Once the door has opened, however, Roy is shocked to realize that he has harbored some resentment toward Sam himself. Says Roy, "Maybe he and I are friends just out of habit, though maybe the same can be said of everything else. Living may be just a habit."

The real beauty of Berger's Best Friends is the simplicity of the characters' relationships, the commonality of an atmosphere so remarkably comfortable that the reader knows these people, is privy to their thoughts and small disharmonies. The story becomes as personal as a private conversation, an extraordinary view from the inside.

© 2003 by Luan Gaines for Curled Up With a Good Book

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