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Friends Like These


Friends Like These

You are probably familiar with the expression “With friends like these, who needs enemies?” It is such a darkly comic line that you can practically hear it coming from the lips of a legendary stand-up comic, like Rodney Dangerfield or Jackie Mason. In the context of FRIENDS LIKE THESE, it accurately describes the highly dysfunctional, spoiled and privileged individuals who are at the center of Kimberly McCreight’s latest novel.

Ten years after graduation, five college friends --- Jonathan, Keith, Stephanie, Derrick and Maeve --- get together for a weekend in New York State’s beautiful Hudson Valley range in the Catskills. Another friend of theirs, Alice, had committed suicide a number of years ago, and they talk about her regularly. During their college days, they saw a man fall off the roof of a building on campus and die in front of them. Little by little, McCreight allows us behind the curtain to offer different perspectives on this violent and unpredictable incident. Every once in a while, Alice’s mother sends them a message that reads: I know what you did. This is quite unnerving but perfect fodder for a psychological thriller.

"I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed a book more that featured characters who were so completely unrelatable and unlikable."

Kaaterskill Detective Julia Scutt is dealing with her own memories and grief, which stems from the murder of her sister, Jane, by a serial killer several years earlier. This is the topic of a true-crime podcast, and it plays in her mind every day. Therefore, when she sees a situation that could be similar, she takes it very seriously and makes sure that justice is done. She enters the cabin in the Catskills and questions Stephanie, Jonathan and Maeve. Keith and Derrick have been reported missing after going out for a quick beer/food run. One of them is dead (it’s too soon to call it murder), while the other hasn’t been found yet.

Readers now must put together all of the many puzzle pieces to decipher what actually happened, and who might have been involved and why. This is especially fun when the chapters jump back and forth in time, with each narrated by a different character. You will have a challenging time rooting for these people, let alone even liking them. It’s hard to feel bad for spoiled children of the 1% types who have grown up and created problems primarily from their own self-indulgent behaviors.

The wild card here is Finch Hendrix, a pretentious artist who works with Keith. As an investor and a curator of fine art, Keith is highly successful but has cash-flow issues since much of his earnings go up his nose each day. This weekend was supposed to be an intervention of sorts for Keith; his pals already had enrolled him in a nearby rehab facility where they intended to bring him. None of the others care for Finch, and his presence throws a big monkey wrench into their plans.

Keith is not the only character with money problems. The cabin, which is owned by Jonathan and his lover, Peter, has been in the midst of heavy renovation. When the construction supervisor comes to the door and says they will not be continuing work until they are paid the tens of thousands of dollars they have laid out in materials, it comes as a huge shock --- especially to Jonathan, who claims to have had no idea about any of this.

McCreight saves a big plot twist for the very end of the novel, which you won’t see coming. I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed a book more that featured characters who were so completely unrelatable and unlikable.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on October 1, 2021

Friends Like These
by Kimberly McCreight