"All You Could Ask For" (William Morrow), by Mike Greenberg
ESPN radio host Mike Greenberg makes his living on guy talk, but who knew he had a gift for girl gab, too? The best-selling author creates three authentic female voices in his first novel, "All You Could Ask For," about women learning life lessons through a devastating experience.
Greenberg introduces three strong, intelligent, relatable characters in a book that's easy to read. Each woman is trying to figure out her place in the world when she receives a shocking breast cancer diagnosis and turns to a support group for help.
Brooke is a stay-at-home mother of two who has a healthy marriage and sense of self. Samantha is a 28-year-old who ran from her rich father's control into the arms of a man whose infidelity she discovers on their honeymoon. Katherine is a brilliant Wall Street deal-maker leading a bitter, lonely existence.
Greenberg's writing style is intimate and conversational, as though the reader is hearing the plot unfold over a few glasses of cabernet at a cozy restaurant. The women tell their dramatic tales in first person, grabbing readers' attention. Cliffhangers between chapters build suspense, and alternating narrators keep the story moving forward.
In the first part of the book, the women don't know each other and the narrative focuses on where they are in their lives: their relationships with men, careers and family ties. They each receive their diagnosis in the novel's second half, when they share feelings and stories over an online cancer support forum.
They have different coping skills and come to acceptance of the disease in contrasting ways. But facing mortality makes all the characters grow and eventually realize that people are what really matter.
There's no reference to race or ethnic background, but the women are all from Greenwich, a Connecticut suburb known for being predominantly white and rich. While they chose different paths, they have similar backgrounds and life experiences so the characters are hardly diverse. They could be somewhat stereotypical ladies of privilege, but Greenberg rounds out their dimensions, adding tenable qualities that make the reader root for them, even when they're making questionable choices.
Greenberg has an amazing eye for detail, and many of his sensory descriptions liven the prose and draw the reader in, from Katherine's meticulous designer wardrobe, to the woodsy smell of a man's shirt, to the sound of expensive shoes on a hardwood floor.
But there are parts of the story that seem too convenient. Two women get apologies and regret speeches from men who wronged them that would play better in Hollywood than real life. Greenberg brushes over the gritty details of their cancer treatment and its effects — both mental and physical — and the plot is wrapped up in a pink bow at the end.
The book suggests that the many choices available to modern American women can sometimes "strangle them." Greenberg also contends women are too competitive with each other, and too hard on themselves, often not appreciating the good in their lives.
This novel celebrates women and the bonds that tie them together. Readers looking for a page turner about friendship, and finding meaning in one's life, will be satisfied.
In conjunction with the book, Greenberg and his wife have created a foundation called "Heidi's Angels" in honor of a family friend, Heidi Armitage, who died of cancer at 43. He will donate all the author's profits to the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
Follow Brooke's blog at http://carpoolcandy.com and on Twitter (at) carpoolcandy.