Sunday, May 15, 2011

When "Borrowed" Means "Stolen"

Necklaces are meant to be borrowed. Handkerchiefs, maybe, or antique hairpieces. Not fiancés. And “borrowing” the fiancé of your very best friend just months before the wedding is certainly off limits. Unless you’re Rachel White, in which case your lust – or, I’m sorry, true love – comes first and even a best friend might end up a casualty.

This is the premise of Emily Giffin’s debut novel, Something Borrowed, and it smacks of American self-centeredness. On the night of Rachel’s thirtieth birthday, after perhaps one too many drinks, she hooks up with Dex, fiancé of her best friend, Darcy. It seems to be a one-time mistake, a misdirected passion resulting from the disappointment of being single at thirty. But over the next few weeks, Dex continues to pursue Rachel, and Rachel finds herself a willing Judas, betraying decades of Darcy’s friendship with a kiss.

Giffin’s plot seems at first humorous. “Oh, dear,” the reader may think, “How will Rachel ever explain and make things right with Darcy? Surely the two of them will band together and give Dex a kick in the pants, a boot out the door, which is just what his cheating ass deserves.” But as the story progresses, it becomes clear that this is not Giffin’s end. Instead, the peripheral characters side with Rachel, telling her to “go for it,” and swipe something of Darcy’s because, after all, Darcy has been a lucky girl all these years, often getting what Rachel had wanted first whether college acceptance letter, boyfriend, cushy job, or skinnier body. Darcy is painted as the enemy despite her long history of friendship with Rachel.

For female readers, this should come as a shock. But as the novel’s best-seller status suggests, today’s readers are more likely to sympathize with a cheating, lying maid of honor than they would with a loyal best friend. Giffin elevates Dex and Rachel’s love – and it is regarded as love – over the bond of female friendship. And whether Rachel and Dex are “in love” or not, isn’t the crime of stealing a near-husband from a best friend just as criminal?

Rachel might be forgiven for her theft, if Darcy had really been a wretched person. But she does not come across as a bad friend. After all, who hasn’t had a friend like Darcy? A “lucky one” who seems to walk on rose petals and wrap the world around her finger with one batted eyelash? Such a friend may incite envy, but she is not deserving of such betrayal. For Rachel to steal her fiancé displays Rachel’s wickedness, not Darcy’s.

If Rachel is the hero of Something Borrowed, our ladies have come to a sad place, indeed. If it’s the Rachels of this world that we are to admire – those who take what they want at the expense of anyone, regarding even lifelong friends as mere stepping stones – what’s to prevent any of us from becoming the Darcy? Which of us wants to be robbed of our life because someone else wants it more? And where does it leave our men? If Dex can finally unchoose Darcy and choose Rachel – mere days before a wedding – where is commitment?

Giffin’s debut novel should sober us with the realization that in this world, no one cares for you. Even your very best friend cares more for herself than for you. What’s worse, Giffin makes no attempt to suggest that this paradigm is backwards. Instead, she promotes this thinking throughout the novel, ending with the cheaters, Rachel and Dex, “looking for a yellow cab headed in the right direction.” If self-centered, friend-smashing living is not your idea of “the right direction,” avoid Giffin’s sad social commentary and pursue novels with higher standards.

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