In one of my very favorite short stories, “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” by Sherman Alexie, the narrator tells us that one of the main character, Victor, “searched his mind for memories of his father, found the good ones, found a few bad ones, added it all up, and smiled.” I love that succinct summary of the process of a son coming to terms with his relationship with his father. This came to mind a lot as I read Rebecca Wells’ Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which seemed to be saying essentially the same thing about a daughter and her mother but took pages and pages and pages to do so. I can see why the novel is so popular, and to be embarrassingly honest, I have to admit that I have been known to watch the movie on TV a few times even though I know it’s a bit of a schlocky mess. I didn’t necessarily dislike the novel, but I felt it could have been cut down by about half and still gotten the job done. I read it avidly for the first few chapters but began to lose interest fairly quickly.
The novel follows Sidda, a successful playwright who unwisely discloses her conflicted feelings about her mother to an interviewer. When the interview is published, Sidda’s very southern and very feisty mother, Vivi, cuts Sidda out of her life. At the same time, Sidda’s beginning to question her relationship with her fiancé, the apparently perfect Connor. Sidda flees all of her troubles by borrowing a friend’s secluded island home in the Pacific Northwest. While she’s there, her mother’s lifelong best friends, who call themselves the Ya-Yas, intrude into Sidda’s solitude and reveal to her some things about her past which begin to change her mind about her mother. Despite a few changes of location, the movie follows the book pretty closely, but there were a few surprises. I especially enjoyed the scene in which the Ya-Yas managed to sneak alcohol into their children’s cotillions, got caught, and were banned from the club.
I probably would have enjoyed this novel more if I hadn’t broken my rule about reading the book before watching the movie (a rule I only adhere to about 90% of the time). I still think, though, that regardless of when I read the novel, I would have found it a bit long. I love strong women, especially strong southern women, but there were a lot of them in this book and they just needed to talk to each other. I don’t want to be too harsh; I just spent a great deal of this book wishing Sidda and Vivi would just forgive each other already.