Novelist creates new genre: senior chick lit


In the novel To My Dearest Friends , Patricia Volk whose Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family delighted readers with her food ironies and outrageous characters, has created a new category: senior chick lit.

Not that it’s a literary secret that women of a certain age enjoy romance. The Nobel Prize-winning novelist, V.S. Naipaul once told his erstwhile friend, the novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux this secret: women in their sixties constantly think about sex.

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However, the sixtyish New Yorkers in To My Dearest Friends think of themselves slightly more than they think about sex; and their competitive narcissism is the richest aspect of the book, one that Volk captures with wit and spot-on accuracy.

The book begins just after Bobbie has died of breast cancer. Before her death, she’d left instructions for her two best friends who hardly know one another to meet in her lawyer’s office. In the waiting room, Alice Vogel, the haughtier of the two, “observes the woman’s shapeless black suit and recognizes the lapels. It is a DKNY from 2002. She takes in the black velvet flats with gold-embroidered tigers.They remind her of bad Greenwich Village paintings from the sixties. It is her opinion that women with well-developed calves would do well to wear pants. If they insist on skirts, then kitten heels to lengthen the leg. She observes that the woman moves well, her body is toned. She feels it is most unfortunate about the makeup. Many women make the same mistake. The older you get, in fact, the less you need.”

And Nanny, the other best friend’s corresponding internal monologue is only slightly less superficial. “Alice Vogel, Sourpuss Extraordinaire. A woman without laugh lines. Her lips bend down at the corners, like Joan Crawford’s. If Bobbie were alive, she’d give me a list of turned-down-mouth beauties. Bette Davis. Katherine Hepburn. Jeanne Moreau. Today lips no longer go down. They’re puffy, plumped with collagen, autologous fat. AlloDerm, Restalyne, and silicone. Today beauty is the fat lip, the Battered Lip Look, as if women had taken a hard left straight from the shoulder, bruised into submission. Jeez. What next? The Bloody Nose Look? The Black Eye? If Bobbie were alive, she’d be the only person I could call with this. She’d get it. We marched for choice and women are choosing to look like victims? Why aren’t our kids marching?”

Thrown together by no choice of their own, the two women must uncover the mystery of a secret Bobbie only revealed to them after her death.

But don’t expect profound literature.

To My Dearest Friends will make a good airplane read. Its subjects — friendship, professional ambition, aging, love and longing, children, fashion — are covered with such a light touch that the book resembles the characters’ favorite salad, the Gotham at Bergdorf’s — although the ingredients are cleverly and skillfully prepared, afterwards you hardly know that you’ve ingested anything. But, if the reader is still hungry, it’s for more of the same only in deeper tones and more close-ups.

Patricia Volk, author of ” To My Dearest Friends ,” published by Alfred A. Knopf, will speak at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Admission: $12 or free with festival series ticket.