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Alisa Valds-Rodrguez's vibrant, can't-put-it-down novel of six friends--each one an unforgettable Latina woman in her late '20s--and the complications and triumphs in their lives
Inseparable since their days at Boston University almost ten years before, six friends form the Dirty Girls Social Club, a mutual support and (mostly) admiration society that no matter what happens to each of them (and a lot does), meets regularly to dish, dine and compare notes on the bumpy course of life and love.
Las sucias are:
--Lauren, the resident "caliente" columnist for the local paper, which advertises her work with the line "her casa is su casa, Boston," but whose own home life has recently involved hiding in her boyfriend's closet to catch him in the act
--Sara, the perfect wife and mother who always knew exactly the life she wanted and got it, right down to the McMansion in the suburbs and two boisterious boys, but who is paying a hefty price
--Amber, the most idealistic and artistic member of the club, who was raised a valley girl without a word of Spanish and whose increasing attachment to her Mexica roots coincides with a major record label's interest in her rock 'n' roll
--Elizabeth, the stunning black Latina whose high profile job as a morning television anchor conflicts with her intensely private personal life, which would explain why the dates the other dirty girls set her up on never work out
--Rebecca, intense and highly controlled, who flawlessly runs Ella, the magazine she created for Latinas, but who can't explain why she didn't understand the man she married and now doesn't even share a room with; and
--Usnavys, irrepressible and larger than life, whose agenda to land the kind of man who can keep her in Manolo Blahniks and platanos almost prevents her seeing true love when it lands in her lap.
There's a lot of catching up to do.The Dirty Girls Social Club closely resembles Terry McMillan's Waiting to Exhale: a handful of young women seek real love and job satisfaction. Unlike McMillan, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez has completely thrown out any literary pretensions whatsoever, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Dirty Girls is a fun, easy, ultimately charming read, not least because the girls themselves are so appealing. Six Latina women become fast friends at Boston University and thereafter meet as a group every few months. Now in their late twenties, they're each on the cusp of the life they want. The novel is narrated in turn by each woman. Feisty Lauren has a column at the Boston Globe, but can't help falling for losers; ghetto-elegant Usnavys is trying to find a man to match her own earning power and expensive tastes; uptight Rebecca is a successful magazine publisher and an unsuccessful wife; beautiful TV anchor Elizabeth has a secret; Sara leads a Martha-Stewart-perfect life as a homemaker; and Amber is a hopeful rock musician in L.A.
The novel works because Valdes-Rodriguez has compassion for her characters; each is faulted, but none is culpable. She also has an eye for the telling detail, as when Rebecca tries to befriend her white husband's stuffy family: "His sister took step classes with me and we shopped for clothes together on Newbury Street and went to the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum one afternoon with Au Bon Pain sandwiches in our handbags." Something about those sandwiches makes the whole enterprise seem more poignant. On the down side, Valdes-Rodriguez is so eager to make things work out for her ladies, her writing sometimes beggars belief. Men actually say things like "Swear to me you're happily married, and I'll stop pursuing you." Yes, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez is, in fact, the Latina Terry McMillan. That is, if McMillan were a slighty guiltier pleasure. --Claire Dederer