on January 26, 2004
This is NOT "Sex and the City", it's far more complicated and real.
Six women are gathering at one's apartment to put on a baby shower for their mutual friend Claire, who has suddenly announced she is pregnant, without being married or any discernible male partner. All six met two decades ago at Theresa House, a residence for women who have come to New York to seeks their fortunes. In fact, Claire still lives there.
The others have gone out and sought their fortunes in other ways -- the strident Martha, with whom everyone else is still friend for the sake of tradition; Jessie, the hostess who has just found love with a man named Jesse as well, Nina, who is caring for her dying mother, Sue Carol, who left her cheating husband for the last time, and Lisbeth, an aging "wactress" (waitress/actress) frightened of not getting any good parts before she has even made it.
The group gathers as New York is predicted to be hit by "the storm of the century". As emotions run high, a similar storm is brewing at the party!!
Read this gem to find out what happens. I look forward to reading more by this great author.
on October 14, 2003
This book took me a while to get into, but once I did, it was worth it. Beautiful Bodies chronicles the events of one night where 6 late-thirties women, friends since their first days in NY, meet up for a baby shower. Cunningham chooses to first introduce us to each of the women by writing about their separate journeys to the baby shower, and then observes what happens when the women meet up, one by one. But the book really doesn't get started until all of them are together.
I've read several books about female friendships, and, honestly, this book is one of the most accurate in describing how the relationships among female friends, particularly when there is more than two, can alternate between gentle, strenuous, compassionate, then explosive (not necessarily in that order) all in one evening. I totally saw myself and my friends in these characters, and loved how Cunningham expertly described the mood shifts as the evening progressed.
I'd recommend this to any woman, as long as they are not expecting a standard plot where everything is tied up in a neat bow at the end. Unlike most of my favorite reads these days, this book isn't perfect as a beach read -- I think it would be best enjoyed on a weekend night by yourself with a great dinner and a glass of wine.
on March 16, 2004
Yes, it *looks* like yet another swingin' single gal fic to be enjoyed while swilling cosmos at the bikini wax salon, but don't be fooled. It's actually the spirit of "The Group" being handed to us with a sugary coating we didn't ask for and don't need, because this is quite an excellent book. How I wish the publisher would give both novel and reader more credit than to dress this one up for drinks at the latest hip spot and make it hang out at the bar with Carrie Bradshaw and Bridget Jones.
on October 29, 2003
Cunningham has a character originally from Kentucky and yet she obviously couldn't be bothered to do any research whatsoever about the area. She doesn't have the dialect correct, nor any of the attributes she gave the area. She talked repeatedly about them eating fried dough--or crullers. This is NOT a Kentucky thing at all. I don't know where she got this from. The woman spoke of her home--Slocum Hollow. No, in Kentucky it's Holler. No one says Hollow there. Also, she says that in Kentucky everyone says, "Gettin' away with it." A.) This is not an expression particular to Kentucky and B.) If someone were saying it in that part of the country, they would say, "Getting' away with hit." It's frustrating that a publishing house, editor, and agent would all miss this serious faux pas. This woman was born and raised in New York City; her bio confirms it. Did no one think that perhaps she had no clue about Kentucky culture and speech?
Otherwise, the plot is fine, but it does drag at points. I felt like she was beating me over the head with certain points. I wanted to stand and scream, "I've got it! I've got it! Move on!"
Not a bad read, but there are so many more worthy books similar to this.
on March 27, 2003
Really, really bad. Gross misuse of commas, so that I had to read and reread sentences twice to understand. Inappropriate use of quotation marks ("outed" doesn't have to be put in quotation marks anymore. What about this -- It was like waking up in a "foreign" country. Excuse me?) Repetitive character thoughts and dialogue. And these women are 38 -- do they not use contractions when they speak? . "I have a threshold and she is at the brink of it. One more truly terrible, hurtful remark and she is out of here." If the author can't police herself, where were the editor and line editor? Annoyingly drawn-out suspension over ridiculous issues (200 pp to find out if a boyfriend will call?)with little to no payback and the unforgiveable convention -- usually employed in children's books -- of forestalling suspense with a ringing doorbell or phone or arrival of another person. Presumption that readers are interested in many details and pitfalls of buying and owning New York City real estate. Interesting premise but inherently risky (all action takes place in two hours, 6 female characters, each with some secret they're debating telling their other friends) Some frequently clever turns of phrases, but after the first three chapters, a dud. (I was marooned with nothing else to read, so I finished it)
on March 18, 2003
The six best friends of the title have, I think, more beautiful spirits than bodies. That's what makes them great -- they are not falsely glamorized. they are very real, especially to me. I am sure I know these women, maybe I am one -- the one who throws the dinner party and is not ready and throws her cellphone out the window rather than wait for her new guy to call! I identify! They are true human beings,with funny idiosynchrasies who make mistakes and their friendships wax and wane, through 15 years and the one night that is the setup for this EXTREMELY FUNNY NOVEL. I wish I was a writer so I could adequately explain how much I enjoyed this , how smart it is and how uplifted it made me feel about myself, my best friends, the men, the one nighters and even my ex-husband! This is humanity, at its best, the fact that it makes you howl and cry is a triumph. I personally thought Martha the funniest creation, Lisbeth the most enduring...I wanted to be there with them. This is the real book, Girlfriends. Don't miss it!
on March 11, 2003
All men should be required to read this book to understand what and how the women in their lives are thinking. Everyone should read it for the pleasure of it: for the great storytelling, and the kind of writing that makes you say, I could do that, until you realize how subtly textured and perfectly structured this book is and are grateful that you don't have to do it, that Cunningham's done it for you and done it beautifully.
She is, as is evident in all of her writing, a brilliant observer of human nature, and of women in particular. Each of the characters in Beautiful Bodies is fully fleshed, has strong opinions about the nature of that flesh, has desires, disappointments, triumphs, terrors, and articulates all these in a voice and idiom that's hers alone. They're great talkers, these women, with voices that are honest and familiar. I KNOW these women!
Don't be fooled by the light tone of the first pages. Cunningham has given us a very funny book, at times airy as a soufflé, yet these women are all grappling with the grittiest stuff life has to throw. And the overall effect - the taste in your mouth when the feast is over (Cunningham writes wonderfully about food; I wish she'd do a cookbook, it would be like standing in the kitchen with your best friend who happens to be a world class cook!) - is one of gratitude: Cunningham's women extend toward one another, after an often hilarious struggle, deep understanding and abiding compassion. It's a very rich book. I can't wait for her next one.
on December 28, 2002
BEAUTIFUL BODIES by Laura Shaine Cunningham is a "chick book" that I normally wouldn't pick up on a bet. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the author's two previous volumes of memoirs, SLEEPING ARRANGEMENTS and A PLACE IN THE COUNTRY, and we've exchanged emails of mutual admiration, so I bit down on my emery board and got on with it. Just between you and me, I'm glad I did. But I'm left wondering if I need testosterone replacement therapy.
The plot tells you right off that it's not a book for Real Men. Six female pals in their mid-30s living in New York gather at a private dinner party at the apartment of one to have a baby shower for another. Baby shower? Yikes!
Jessie, the hostess, is a successful journalist still in the post-coital afterglow of an affair out in Colorado with one of her subjects. Nina, a chronic dieter and the primary caregiver for her dying mother, owns a nail salon. Nina is also fresh off an afternoon tryst with someone she met in her apartment building's laundry room, a New Age Sensitive Fella who invited her up for herbal tea ("Celestial Seasonings"). Sue Carol, a waitress and struggling thespian with a substance abuse problem, has just left her adulterous husband. Sue Carol savors all the little dramas in her life - they'll make her a better actress. Lisbeth, an ethereal, anorexic artist/model pining after a lost (and married) lover, spends a significant portion of her energy staving off her landlord's efforts to evict her from her rent-controlled apartment. Martha, a real estate agent obsessed with her exorbitant earnings and the material goodies they buy, has meticulously planned to have a child with her fiance, but has just learned that she's sterile. And lastly, Claire, the mother-to-be. Claire is an independent, free-spirited musician - she plays the krummhorn - who's happily made a world for herself in an 18 by 20 foot room in a local residence for women. She's blissfully happy with her pregnancy and the prospect of being a single mother. The baby's father, a global wanderer, may never be seen again.
For me, the chief fascination of BEAUTIFUL BODIES was in watching the nuances and shifting dynamics of the relationships between the six women as they come together on a winter night to celebrate Claire's impending motherhood and share secrets. For example, Nina is the first to show up at Jessie's apartment. Later, Lisbeth is the second guest to arrive, and:
"When a third woman enters the room, it is clear which two women are the closer friends. Triangles always come to a point."
And still later, as the assembled group sits for dinner:
"The others had taken their places, as the (place) cards indicated .... The lines were drawn. The dull knives waited."
For me, a simple guy, this is potentially scary stuff. My two favorite players are Jessie and Martha. Jessie, who desperately tries to keep her party on track in the face of spoken anxieties and revealed confidences. Jessie, whose own angst is growing. (Her new lover did promise to call at 8:00 PM, didn't he? Was he turned off my her mastectomy scar?) And Martha, whose catty criticisms comprise a potential flamethrower in an atmosphere of volatile emotions.
BEAUTIFUL BODIES is a wonderful, poignant, funny, touchy-feely book totally unsuitable for a troglodytic male unless he wants a brief glimpse into the female psyche. Having just been there, I think I'll regain a masculine perspective by having a beer with the Boys. If they'll still admit me to the Clubhouse, that is.
on January 24, 2004
An absolute must-read. tells it like it is for women friends. The "little ripples" -- envy & love, laughs and wine. More bonding than YaYa Sisterhood...For women in 30s, 40s, it is On The Nose! Spot on! Deluscious, delish, the best dish! Curl up -- This is The best!
The sexual matter is lovely, in good taste, for a change.
on November 21, 2002
As a single woman, aged 35, living in a big city but not New York, I was breathless from start to finish. I did not stop reading this book for a day and a half. Went without sleep. For me, this is the first book that describes a world I know, a life I lead. I identified completely with Jessie, the woman who must throw the party - and clean the cat box, cook the meal & and is so totally distracted yet pulls it off. A loving spirit infuses the very exciting sex with so much more than I accustomed to finding in a "great read." The stories are truthful, hilarious and heart breaking. Laugh, cry, lend to your best friend, your sister, your mother. A true depiction of female friendhip. I fell in love with the book, hope it is a movie or a tv series. Out-sexes sex and the city, with compassion for its characters.