Beth Gutcheon's novel about the enduring friendships within a group of women may depict interesting lives, but it is not, in the end, very interesting as fiction.
Betsy Groban - New York Times Book Review
Gutcheon's style is clean, literate, funny and mostly unsentimental. She brings to mind Armistead Maupin in the wry understatement of her prose, her broad canvas and the intelligence with which she attacks substantial issues. I was unable to put Five Fortunes down.
Friends, lovers, adulterers, a fortune-teller and even a murderer are objects of gently sardonic fun in Gutcheon's stylish new comedy (after "Saying Grace") about five women who meet at The Cloisters, a posh $4000-a-week health spa in Arizona. Octogenarian Rae Strouse, a former fan-dancer and now a wealthy San Francisco matron, returns for her 22nd visit. A birthday gift for outsized (six feet and 180 lbs.) L.A. PI Carter Bond allows her a week in the hallowed hot tubs. Amy Burrows and her obese teenage daughter, Jill, come tangled in dirty laundry from their privileged Manhattan life, while anomalous, athletic Idahoan Laurie Lopez comes to grieve over the death of her husband, a politician and once a tennis star. "Fat Chance" is an apt nickname for this temple of rejuvenation: most of the guests haven't a prayer of living up to the example of their enthusiastic, neon-clad fitness instructors, one of whom is so thin "her body looked like a collection of bicycle parts." At the end of their frog march through the fat farm's regimen, the women meet in secret with a mysterious palm-reading masseuse, whose predictions will follow them long after they have completed their tour of duty at The Cloisters; by then, we are as caught up in this fast-paced story as these women are in each other's lives.
The importance of connections between women is highlighted in this story of friendship and support among a group of five women who first meet on a week-long retreat at a health spa in Arizona.... The friends discover that through finding ways to support one another, each is able to move toward healing and growth in her own life. Gutcheon is the author of four previous novels and the Academy Award-nominated film script, The Children of Theatre Street. —Grace Fill
Gutcheon, veteran chronicler of the moneyed but miserable set (Saying Grace, 1995, etc.), takes five women and turns the friendship they make at a spa into an upbeat tale of love, redemption, and purpose helped along by money and powerful contacts. The five women, all with problems or heartaches, meet at the Cloisters, a fashionable health resort in the Arizona desert where the rich and famous come to lose weight, stop smoking, or relax. The women include chipper octogenarian Rae Strouse, who has lots of bucks but whose husband Albie, at home in the family manse in San Francisco, is failing fast. Lonely college student Jill, who looks like a blimp since she started eating as a way of coping with being raped in Central Park, is there with mother Amy, a woman who, the resident palm reader suggests, has rare abilities and will soon remarry, a bit of a surprise, since she is currently married to Noah, a New York surgeon. Lanky Carter Bond, divorced and a Los Angeles private investigator, wants to stop smoking, and Laura Lopez, a judge, mother of five, and recent widow, just wants to grieve. Inevitably, the women are drawn to one another, and once they leave the spa keep in touch. In the year that follows, Jill, who experienced an affirming epiphany, loses weight, deals with another attack, and makes new friends; Rae, heartbroken after Albie dies, finds a new purpose in life when she starts building a housing project; a drug bust that went wrong brings not only baby Flora into Carter's life but also former husband Jerry; Laura, back home in Idaho, runs for the Senate, at her friends' urging; and, when Amy sees Noah with another woman, she moves out and focuses her considerable talents on running Laura's campaign. An unpretentious tale of friendship among the well-heeled that is both a page-turner and day-brightener.
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