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valerie frankel


Brooklyn Bugle Book Club: “Four of a Kind” by Valerie Frankel

February 24, 2012

As Valerie Frankel’s new novel, set in and around a private school in Brooklyn Heights opens, Bess, mother of four and president of the school’s Parent Association, has invited Robin, a single mother, Carol, an African-American physician, and Alicia, who is Caucasian and lives above Fairway in Red Hook, to her beautifully decorated Clinton Street town house to discuss forming a Diversity Committee for the school. Although each has a child in the fourth grade, the women barely know each other, and each wonders why she was included. (Well, to Carla it’s annoyingly obvious.) Unable to find their way into the subject at hand, the women find themselves playing a form of strip poker, giving up secrets instead of clothes.

It’s a clever setup for a novel about women’s relationships. After their awkward initial meeting, the women continue to meet monthly. They continue to play– their favorite game is Texas hold-em — and we meet their husbands and children, see them at work and at home, and come to learn how each of them has ended up in Brooklyn. The kids all get to know each other better, as childcare issues (and who doesn’t have those?) mean the children are sometimes brought along, with 16-year-old Amy, Bess’ oldest child, as sitter.

As they play, the women challenge each other to be their best selves. They will all need the support, as each faces a crisis during the year. Amy angrily edges away from Bess. Alicia’s son struggles in school and her husband is out of work, adding stress to a tense marriage. Carol’s husband loses his job, and she is offered an unhappy option at work. And Robin, the single mom? She decides to try to find again the man she has long thought of as her sperm donor, with whom she had a one-night stand 11 years earlier. Sure enough, he wants to have a role in his daughter’s life.

Frankel uses her Brooklyn Heights setting well, making use of recognizable landmarks, restaurants, and of course the Promenade. The characters travel, to work, in Manhattan or Cobble Hill, to Red Hook, to Clinton Hill, and even, for one memorable and out-of-character weekend, to Atlantic City. The women’s jobs, particularly Alicia’s in a boutique advertising agency and Carol’s in the Long Island College Hospital pediatrics clinic, are convincingly described. If I have one quibble, it’s that it seems unlikely that a woman of Robin’s education and intelligence would be satisfied doing piecework for Zogby polls for a living.

Over the course of the year, not much Diversity Committee business gets done, but a lot of interesting events occur as the women struggle to support each other in the face of the challenges each faces. Each learns to rely on some facet of one of the others that she hadn’t first thought was important. “Four of a Kind” is a very entertaining and entirely believable story of four women who form a fast friendship.

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Brooklyn Bugle Book Club: In “It’s Hard not to Hate You” Val Frankel Looks Back at Anger

September 22, 2011

If love and hate are the ace and king of emotions, inseparable but different, then anger has to be the Queen of Spades. It’s a crucial emotion, but holding on to it isn’t healthy, as Brooklyn Heights resident author Valerie Frankel is reminded at the start of her hilarious new memoir, “It’s Hard not to Hate You.”

And let’s be clear, Frankel has much to be angry about, including her young husband’s death from a freak case of lung cancer, leaving her the widowed mother of two very young daughters; her own family history of cancer and an early cancer scare of her own; and the daily aggravations of life in a large city: traffic, crowds, and unfriendly neighbors.

Starting from her awkward teenage years, through her awkward dating years, and on through her awkward medical complications in her forties, Frankel reports swallowing her anger, humiliation, and rage at life’s mishaps. She keeps it in as hate. When a doctor tells her to reduce stress, she figures, “Doctor’s orders: The hate in me just had to come out.” Over the course of a year, Frankel learns to express her anger, and getting it out makes the feelings manageable. She’s probably healthier. This book is a nice side benefit for the rest of us.

In story after story, Frankel revels in who she hated (hates), and why. She elegantly intersperses academic studies about emotions with the efforts she has made over the years to overcome the hate. One of the many funny examples in the book is the suggestion a couples counselor makes to help Frankel have fights that accomplish something with her (second) husband. “Ask questions. Pretend you’re on Jeopardy! And put everything in the form of a question.” This doesn’t work out quite as the counselor intended when Frankel and her husband get into a fight at Key Food, but the result works. “We weren’t engaged in a productive conversation about our conflict. But we were laughing together, which, unlike fighting productively, we were very good at.” (What is my favorite scene on page 116?)

Examples abound: the BBoA, the past boyfriends, BFF parents, and I kept laughing out loud as I read. You will, too. Anyone who has ever been a teenage girl, or who is a teenage girl, or who lives with a teenage girl, or anticipates having one around in a few years, should head over to BookCourt for insights and some useful truths. Oh, and did I mention? It’s very FUNNY.

What’s your best technique for day-to-day coping? Discuss in the comments.

Have a book you want me to know about? Email me at

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