The Girls from Ames

I was asked to read and review Jeffrey Zaslow’s best-selling book, The Girls from Ames because I grew up in Iowa. Ames is in Iowa. It’s near dead center of the state, about an hour from the city of Des Moines, where I lived for twenty years, and the home of my late husband’s alma mater – Iowa State University.

Ames is also the site of Mary Greeley hospital where Dee was conceived in a petri dish and where many of the Ames Girls were born. Of course, they were born, grown and mothers, most of them, long before I ever needed to venture to Ames.

Lisa, of TLC Book Tours, thought I might have a unique perspective on this quasi-memoir that follows the friendship of a group of girls from near infancy to middle-age. Well, I am middle-aged and from Iowa. I also was a child in the 1960’s and a teen in the mid to late 1970’s. Like the women in the book, I navigated the murky career, relationship and social waters of the 1980’s when much was expected and little was offered by way of advice from those who came just before us.

And I found myself nodding a lot because many of the girls reminded me of girls I knew and of situations that were (and still are) common when growing up female in North America.

But the Ames girls were people I would have known of but not been friends with myself. They were – as my seven-year old would say – “a clique” and a fairly exclusive one at that. Pretty, popular, financially privileged, they moved in circles that were off-limits and invitation only. Unless you were a girl like that yourself, your knowledge was based on rumors and hearsay, so it was interesting to know that they angsted like the rest of us and were unsure and actually got into trouble when they deserved to.

Zaslow discovered the Ames girls via a column he writes for The Wall Street Journal. He spent time with them and writes their memoir in a one girl at a time style that manages to chronicle all eleven of the women through to their mid-40’s. I could have done without his commentary or the tidbits he throws in about studies on this or that girl or woman issue because the stories themselves are much more interesting, and women in general don’t need to be told what our issues are.

The book is 360 pages with an updated Afterword, but is a quick, engaging read.

Below is a list of other reviews, you might want to check out or you could check out an earlier sneak peek review I wrote in March, and you can read an excerpt here.

Jeffrey Zaslow’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Wednesday, April 14th: Simply Stacie

Thursday, April 15th: Silver and Grace

Friday, April 16th: Chaotic Compendiums

Monday, April 19th: Rundpinne

Tuesday, April 20th: Luxury Reading

Wednesday, April 21st: Book Nook Club

Thursday, April 22nd: Suko’s Notebook

Monday, April 26th: Feminist Review

Tuesday, April 27th: Beth’s Book Reviews

Wednesday, April 28th: Bookworm with a View

Thursday, April 29th: She Reads and Reads

Friday, April 30th: Book Blab

Monday, May 3rd: Cafe of Dreams

Tuesday, May 4th: Janel’s Jumble

Wednesday, May 5th: Anniegirl1138

Thursday, May 6th: Peeking Between the Pages

Monday, May 10th: One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books

Tuesday, May 11th: Life in the Thumb

Wednesday, May 12th: lit*chick

One of the themes that runs through The Girls from Ames (which I just finished last night) is dating, finding the right and wrong men, marriage, divorce and more dating. As far as women have come, and I am told it’s a “long way, baby”, much of our lives is eaten up in the pursuit of coupling. The author notes the “girls” boyfriends and romantic ups and downs as far back as elementary school.

I don’t have a romantic past that stretches back that far. I crushed on guys certainly as a girl and teen, but I was shy, very fat and too ambivalent about the whole thing for there to be much to talk about. College was pretty much the same. I thought, and I don’t think I was unique, that someone would just “find me”. See me walking or in class or dancing in a club and know that I was the one for them. I hung hopefully on the edges and, of course, nothing happened. The few times I stepped up and laid my cards on the table – I was rejected – which is ironic when you consider that by stating my feelings and intentions openly I wound up married – twice. I was ahead of my time, I suppose.

One of the women in the book, Karla, was married and divorced with a baby in her mid-twenties when she met her second husband. It was one of those “just sorta knew” relationships. The other women in the book hold her relationship up as the ideal. It certainly is a meeting of partners where each one is more concerned about the other than themselves and see downs times as just as normal and necessary to a relationship as up times. Ebb and flow. If you can’t float a boat on both, failure is a given.

Two things that dovetailed this morning, one was an FB status update about Camp Widow. Some of my FB friends belong to a bereavement group that holds yearly “conventions” to deal with widow issues. Two of their speakers, according to the update, will be talking about the “how” of recoupling. There is a “how”? Specifically? Hmmm.  And I read a widow grog that seems to be mostly about dealing/rebuilding and much of what the bloggers there write about are the disappointments and challenges of rebuilding. The post today dealt with the anger and frustration of dating again. Mostly about comparing. I am probably just revealing my too practical side here, but why compare at all? Or make lists?

One of the girls in the book divorced in the last five years and is searching for the kind of marriage that Karla and the others seem to have. Operative word being “seem” and has a list, comparison dates/shops. But how can you find someone when you after assessed yourself and let go of who you were?

That’s key to moving on and new love, isn’t it?

I didn’t compare Rob to Will. Even if there had been a basis for doing so, I made up my mind to put Will and our relationship in the past. Nothing good would come of my trying to recreate that time or using my old self as a basis for future happiness.

There is the sutra argument that our true selves are eternal. Regardless of our current perceptions of who we are, which is based largely on the world around us, we are always us deep down. It’s necessary then to not rely over much on past actions, relationships, and such, as touchstones. The past has limited use in determining present day direction.

I knew long before Will died that I needed to be married again. I felt unfinished in a way that transcends the ability to put the feeling to proper words. There was someone out there and I was meant to love again. So when the time came, I put Will in his place in my past and I left him there. He had no purpose in my future. He was done, another piece of my foundation.

One of the things I loved about Karla’s story was the way her second husband, Bruce, totally embraced being her daughter’s father. I am puzzled by people who don’t dive in as a parent or people who refuse to allow their new spouses to be parents. Like a child can have too much parental support and love? My own opinion is that a potential spouse who can’t love your child isn’t a good pick and that children aren’t mature enough, or have the ability to see past their self-centeredness to know what is best for them sometimes. Loving a person with children means committing to parenting too. Otherwise, forget it.

All the talk – on blogs and talk shows and in books – about the need to be single, find yourself, learn to be you, blah, blah, blah – is directly contradicted by the fact that we spend most of our lives searching for love, maintaining/nurturing love and lamenting/longing for it when it ends. I don’t think this is a dysfunction. It is human. Alone is not the norm though it certainly can be unavoidable given the way society works anymore.

I identified with the girls in the book who felt there was something wrong with them as teens and twenty-somethings searching, putting their hearts out there and being rejected. I know better now. There is nothing wrong with me. I was being me and the rejection wasn’t personal really. It was steering me – too slowly it felt like – to where I was meant to be. We can be so impatient. We think we are ready and we’re not, or we think we need someone who is merely a want. Needs and wants stubbornly don’t match up a lot because our true selves are hard-hearted on our behalf.

I totally believe that we choose our destinies for whatever reason yet to be revealed and that it’s the human imposed perception of time that keeps us from realizing that we have so much more time in the larger scheme of things. Even if I live to be 110, the years are a blip in terms of my true self’s existence. The time I have spent on this plane with Will and Rob is just a drop in the bucket of the time our souls know each other, and we must carry little bits of each other around or else how would we know each other again?

Forgive the rambling. I am in the throes of yet another allergy attack. Two nights in a row. It appears I am allergic to cleaning solvents which is going to make cleaning a challenge and avoiding them in the world a priority – though how I am going to manage, I haven’t quite worked out yet.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the whole love and relationship thing. Without them, do we have lives at all really?

I am reading The Girls from Ames by Jeffery Zaslow. A book blog I’ve reviewed for in the past contacted me because I am an Iowa girl too and the blogger thought I might have an insider take on this true story of friendship that has spanned forty years.

The women who make up the Ames girls are actually just a year older than I am. Most of what they recollect rings bells and I think I have a lot to say about it but not all at once.

I don’t have any friends who’ve known me my entire life. Friendships for me are often situational and those who do linger through time tend to do so in spurts. I have a small group of friends I am still in contact with – via Facebook now – that I met in high school. There is just one friend left from the middle school years and the farthest back I go with anyone who is not family are two guys I went to kindergarten with that I rediscovered on Facebook, but one of them unfriended me because I support same sex marriage. It’s kind of nonsensical because he unfriended me while remaining friends with our mutual kindergarten pal who happens to be gay. I don’t try to understand things like that.

The book covers quintessential growing up experiences for central Iowa that don’t necessarily translate for a tri-state river city kid like me. It also deals with the trials and tribulations of an in crowd, something I know from observation only. I resisted groups. Always hung on the edge and avoided opportunities to belong in cliques that could have been advantageous.

Here’s a clip:

I have more to say but wonder about your friends. Feel free to comment.