Sunday, March 3, 2019

Review: A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself

A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself by William Boyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy from NetGalley for review.

A mob widow, her granddaughter, and a retired porn star go on the run with two bags of cash, and a hammer wielding psychopath hot on their trail.

If that sentence doesn’t sell you on this book then I don’t know what would.

Rena Ruggiero has been living a quiet, lonely life ever since her mobster husband was murdered in front of their house in Brooklyn. After an elderly neighbor gets too aggressive in making an advance on her, Rena clocks him with an ashtray and takes his car. In a panic, Rena goes to see her estranged daughter, Adrienne, thinking that she can finally reconnect with her and the granddaughter, Lucia, she hasn’t seen in years. When her hopes of a reconciliation are instantly crushed Rena meets Adrienne's neighbor, Lacey Wolfstein. Wolfstein starred in a lot of porn movies back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and then she moved on to hustling old men for cash. Now she has a sack of money stashed in the wall of her house as she spends her golden years drinking vodka and watching old movies.

Things go sideways after Adrienne's mobbed up boyfriend and an old victim of Wolfstein’s both show up at the same time with their own agendas, and Rena, Wolfstein, and Lucia have to flee with Wolfstein’s retirement fund. Their stolen Cadillac also has a briefcase full of stolen mob money and a machine gun in the trunk.

William Boyle’s two novels, Gravesend and The Lonely Witness, quickly made me a fan of his, and this one is an early contender for my favorite of 2019. While the other two are loosely connected and focus heavily on the their Brooklyn setting, this is more of a plot based crime novel with incredibly well developed and offbeat characters. It reminded me a lot of Elmore Leonard at his best, and that’s just about the highest praise I can give a book.

Boyle’s characters frequently act irrationally which makes sense because they do really seem like people instead of characters. However, since this one is more plot heavy that came across as a bit more frustrating because those actions continue to drive the plot. Lucia, in particular, was irritating as hell at times, but on the other hand, she’s a teenager. So it makes sense.

That’s a relatively minor nitpick in an otherwise great book. Wolfstein, in particular, was incredibly fun as this pragmatic woman with a wild history who is also incredibly compassionate and empathetic. I’d love to read an entire novel that was about her younger days as a porn star and grifter. His portrayal of Rene is also very well done as a woman whose whole world was her marriage, her kitchen, and her church, and who know finds herself struggling to figure out who she wants to be from now on. Their odd couple friendship is at the heart of this story, and it’s compelling reading.

A friend may be the gift you give yourself, but you could also give yourself the gift of reading this book.

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