On the surface, the members of the facetiously named "Same Sweet Girls" club six women, now in their 40s, who've known one another since college and still get together twice a year seem like unlikely friends. In background, lifestyle, taste in men and even geography, they started out with little in common, and that hasn't changed much over the years. Instead, they seem to draw strength mostly from the history they share they're friends because they've always been friends, which may be as good a reason as any. The Same Sweet Girls, Cassandra King's third novel, is told from the perspectives of Corrine, Julia and Lanier, who are the closest of the six friends (although it hasn't always been that way). Among these, Julia is the most glamorous. "Classically beautifully in a Grace Kelly way," she hails from a prominent Alabama family and grew up to marry the governor. She carries a dark secret, though, one that even some of the Same Sweet Girls (SSGs for short) don't know about. Corrine, the most eccentric, is an acclaimed artist who suffers from twin demons of depression and an abusive ex-husband, Miles a psychologist, of all things. (How do you think they met?) Lanier is the reckless one, a nurse with a history of screw-ups in her personal life. Estranged from her husband and unexpectedly reacquainted with a childhood crush, Lanier is the most colorful of the SSGs. She also has the best lines. When Corrine falls ill, Lanier finds dark humor in the fact that Miles, sadistic as ever, is still lurking: "Julia had trouble sleeping . . . kept getting up all through the night," Lanier reports, after she'd convinced Julia to leave Corrine's bedside and get some rest. "I said, Why didn't you give Miles a call? Bet he'd have been glad to come and tie you to the bedposts." King, who is married to author Pat Conroy, is known for her emphatically Southern tales. The Same Sweet Girls is based loosely on the author's own circle of friends, and as a warm tribute to their friendship indeed, to all friendships it succeeds nicely. Rosalind S. Fournier writes from Birmingham, Alabama.

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