Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Practical Approach to Friendship

Perhaps it is important for everyone reading this to know that my family--spurred by my younger sister, but indeed shared by my whole family-- my family had a strange penchant for the movie Serial Mom. We had it on VHS. We watched it together. More than once. Hey, it was a good movie. And perhaps there was something vaguely familiar about the idea that a mother would kill people who she perceived hurt her children. Not that my mother (who was also our girl scout leader; who was involved in the creation of the Children's Board; who later became the school's Booster club president; who attended every concert, game, and performance faithfully and with a smile on her face)...NOT that my mother would ever kill anyone who hurt her family. But would she consider it, if we were well and truly hurt? Well, suffice it to say that our family loved Serial Mom.

I was reminded of this long-forgotten family favorite as I read Trevor Cole's brilliant Practical Jean. Jean, who may or may not have been practical, has recently been the devoted and full-time caretaker of her dying mother. The novel begins soon after the slow and agonizing death of Jean's mother. And Jean comes to the (practical) realization that a good friend would never allow her dearest friends to live a life that ends in that type of awful suffering. And so she does what any good friend would do. She becomes a serial killer. Hilarity ensues. (For the reader, that is...certainly not for Jean's ill-fated friends.)

While the book is never bogged down by heavy-handed prose or overly serious ruminations on the human condition, it certainly raises some interesting questions. When my 87-year-old grandmother (may she rest in peace) was a month into complications (and suffering) from an ultimately fatal prolapsed intestine, she bemoaned, "They give sodium pentathol to dogs! Why don't I deserve that mercy?" If, in those moments at the end of her life, she had been able to write a book...well, my grandmother didn't have Trevor Cole's cutting humor. But I can't help but imagine she would have appreciated it, as did I.

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