The Girls from Ames: A Group Biography/Collective Memoir

“Sociologists now have data showing that women who can maintain friendships through the decades are healthier and happier, with stronger marriages, ” says Jeffrey Zaslow in the introduction to The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women & a Forty-Year Friendship.

If you are a woman, and if you have a group of life-long close friends, this book will bring back many memories and send you rushing to the phone or computer to tell your friends you love them and want them to read this book.

If you are a man whose wife, mother, or sister has these kinds of friends, you’ll enjoy the book also–and you can learn a lot about how to understand such women from the male author.

If you are a writer interested in craft, you can learn a lot from Jeffrey Zaslow, columnist, and co-author of the earlier best seller, The Last Lecture. Zaslow’s Wall Street Journal column is called “Moving On” and focuses on transitions in people’s lives.  This book began when a woman named Jenny wrote Zaslow a letter about friendship, leading him to follow up eventually.  He learned about eleven women from Ames, Iowa, who have maintained a close friendship for forty years. When you read this book, you feel that you know these women also.

I always write in my books, but this one required a pencil more than most–because I kept trying to place the (wonderful) group pictures with the eleven individual women as they are referred to in the many vignettes woven throughout the book. Reading the stories reminded me of the way I pored over my mother’s yearbook when I was a young girl.  All those little quotes and handwritten messages were clues about the beautiful and mysterious people in the pictures.  I wanted to know all about all of them.

That’s the way I felt reading this book, too. I have three sets of close, long-term, women friends–one from college, one from a small group started 30 years ago in my church,and one small group of former college presidents. Add up the numbers and there are 8 women altogether. We don’t communicate as faithfully as the Ames “girls,” but we know each other in our depths, and if any one of us were in serious trouble, the others would come running.

Two things make the Ames girls unusual, at least in my experience. First, the size of the group–eleven. Second, the degree of intimacy that extends past the time of their elementary and high school days even as they have scattered all over the country.  They also have saved many fascinating, creative, group photos that make their stories jump off the page. And some of them even saved the notes they wrote to each other in the high school library!

Out of this group one has died, one has survived breast cancer, another has been diagnosed recently, and another has lost a child. Their stories are told with tenderness and grace. The degree of honesty permitted to a stranger and allowed to be published will probably surprise you. The women, for example, rate their marriages on a scale of 1-10 and recall old boy friends, some of whom dated more than one of the group.

This book offers the opportunity to study relationships over time as well as the way individual and collective identities arise our of the same roots in the same place. These women carry their youth with them (they are all 44 now) wherever they go, because they have each other to remind them of their essential selves and to protest when they stray from it.

I think I will stop here so as not to spoil the book for you. And so that I can ask a few questions the book generated for me:

What do you value most in your friendships? Do you have a story of one or more women who have taught you about friendship? Are you a part of a social cohort that is moving together from youth to age?






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About Shirley Hershey Showalter

Author of memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. Blogging about Magical Memoir Moments and Jubilación -- vocation in the second half of life.
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4 Responses to The Girls from Ames: A Group Biography/Collective Memoir

  1. babsland says:

    I have been contemplating “sisterhood” a lot in the past year. This book of which you write seems like a “must read” in light of this interest of mine. I have a theory, and maybe others have postulated it prior, that in the absense of a real, blood-related sister, women automatically seek out like-minded woman friends to act as surrogates. I am beginning to see how complicated it can all be, both for “real” sister relationships as well as the “invented” ones.

  2. shirleyhs says:

    You will enjoy this book, Barbara. It rings true on many levels and does not sugar-coat. Hope you have and will continue to have many sisters. The one you lost will always be very special too.

  3. babsland says:

    I have been contemplating “sisterhood” a lot in the past year. This book of which you write seems like a “must read” in light of this interest of mine. I have a theory, and maybe others have postulated it prior, that in the absense of a real, blood-related sister, women automatically seek out like-minded woman friends to act as surrogates. I am beginning to see how complicated it can all be, both for “real” sister relationships as well as the “invented” ones.

  4. shirleyhs says:

    You will enjoy this book, Barbara. It rings true on many levels and does not sugar-coat. Hope you have and will continue to have many sisters. The one you lost will always be very special too.

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