“The past is history, the future is a mystery” — Poker player’s mantra
Carla, Bess, Alicia and Robin have nothing in common besides having children enrolled in an uber-pricey (how about $32,000 a year tuition pricey?) Brooklyn Heights private school, but a tentative poker game in Valerie Frankel’s “Four of a Kind” (Ballantine Books trade paperback, 352 pages, $15.00) is the catalyst that lets them open up their mouths — and their hearts.
Perfect for Valentine’s Day, “Four of a Kind” includes enough family and personal problems to fill a Lifetime movie marathon. It’s chick lit, but — as I’ve written in the past — it’s the kind of chick lit that men can find entertaining and enlightening. God knows we guys need enlightening, as the title of one of Frankel’s previous books signifies: “Men Are Stupid…and They Like Big Boobs”.
What Frankel calls “Brooklyn Hold ‘Em” is a variation on Texas Hold ‘Em, playing for secrets rather than money. (Although, in a road trip to Atlantic City, the four women get a hilarious introduction to the serious form of poker, where big stakes are the norm and experience in the game is necessary).
The sessions that eventually bond the four women into a real Four of a Kind begin with a meeting in Bess’s Brooklyn Heights townhouse, valued at seven figures in one of the most architecturally significant parts of a borough that was a separate city until 1898. Thrown together on the Brownstone School’s Diversity Committee, the women impulsively turn their awkward first meeting at Bess’s home into a boisterous game of poker. Instead of betting with chips or pocket change, however, they play for intimate secrets about their lives. With each monthly Diversity Commitee meeting — where little of diversity is discussed — Carla, Bess, Alicia and Robin look forward to a ritual where they have fun learning the intricacies of the game, revealing more secrets with each game.
Picture-perfect housewife Bess Steeple struggles to relate to her surly teenage daughter, Amy, and judgmental mother, feminist icon Simone, who vies with Bess for the affections of Amy. The other women at first are in awe of the beautiful Bess and her handsome husband Borden, a survivor of the Wall Street meltdown who has a good job at Merrill Lynch. Only later do Carla, Alicia and Robin realize that even “perfect” people have problems.
Robin Stern, a single mom — and arguably the most judgmental and stubborn of the four — grapples with the truth concerning her daughter Stephanie’s real father. Push really comes to shove when she again meets Harvey Wilson; a one-time hook-up a decade ago resulted in the formerly grossly obese Robin’s pregnancy with Stephanie.
And to distract herself from her troubled marriage, shy advertising copywriter Alicia Fandine fantasizes about an attractive younger colleague. The monthly poker sessions give this once diffident woman the courage to remake her life and that of her husband, Tim, and son, Joe. Putting all their cards on the table, the four women grow to rely on one another, bracing for one final showdown.
A word of caution for those few who may be offended by frank language, including descriptions of sex: “Four of a Kind” is not for the faint of heart. (Although at least one person does faint in the very readable novel!).
About the Author
Valerie Frankel received critical acclaim for her bestselling memoirs, “Thin Is the New Happy” and “It’s Hard Not to Hate You”. She is the author of fifteen novels, including “The Accidental Virgin”, and is a journalist much in demand. Her writing has appeared in O: The Oprah Magazine, Allure, Self, Good Housekeeping and The New York Times, among others. She lives in Brooklyn Heights with her two daughters, four cats, and husband, opera singer Stephen Quint. Her website: www.valeriefrankel.com.