I haven’t thought about Debbie and Chrissy and Aaron and the gang–that crew I worked with at that corn dog stand in the mall back in high school–for years. They disappeared from my life long ago. But when I picked up Better Food for a Better World—the latest work from Slant Books (an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers)—the years fell away and the memories came like a spring shower, washing fresh color over this middle class life I now live.
Better Food for a Better World is the story of three couples—old friends from college—who become business partners later in life. They pool funds and start Natural High Ice Cream: Better Food for a Better World—an ice cream parlor with a social conscience.
You have Nancy and Paul—seemingly the leaders of this little pack of wayward dreamers. These two are the level-headed ones—the ones who always say the right thing and religiously quote the self-help dogma the couples cling to for guidance. But Nancy and Paul have a secret. And all may not be quite as neat and tidy as it appears.
Then there are David and Cecilia who are trying desperately to have a baby. Only one of them is not so sure how to feel about this. And both of them may be trying so hard to be happy with this life-that-hasn’t-quite-turned-out-as-planned that they just might end up losing what matters most.
And finally there are Vivy and Sam—the free-spirited couple who used to travel the country as booking agents/managers for obscure acts, such as contortionists and other eccentric entertainers. When their two kids came along, Vivy and Sam decided it was time for a more settled life. Only neither of them are feeling very settled.
The lives of the couples intersect at Natural High but also at their weekly Life Ties meetings. Life Ties is a support group for married couples loosely based on AA. The group has its own rules, language, and customs and really becomes the couples’ religion.
With smart humor and remarkable insight, author Erin McGrawbrings these characters to life in such a way that this world she has created seems to open doors into the world of the reader. The complexities of the characters and the internal conflicts they face seem in sharp contrast to the idealistic image of the all American ice-cream shop they run. McGraw’s storytelling bears the peculiar gift of making one feel younger and older simultaneously. For, what might have been an idealistic tale of friendship and social consciousness quickly becomes tangled up in the reality of the human frailties of the players.
And isn’t this the story of us all? When I think back to the days at the corn dog stand, I feel the glimmer of optimism that comes with youth and fewer responsibilities. But I also remember how messy it was to belong to those people—to let my life become intimately intertwined with theirs. As an older (and wiser?) woman now, I have cleaner boundaries; I know my emotional bandwidth. Close friendships are rare and therefore treasured and carefully tended. But there is that part—that wistful remnant of my young heart—that still wonders if it is possible to be part of a group like Life Ties and still maintain healthy relationships.
What about you? When you consider your work relationships—or your friendships in general—do you feel the optimism of youth? Are you intimately intertwined in the lives of these people or do you keep a safe distance? Do you think the former is possible as we tick-tock toward maturity?
Better Food for a Better World is a lovely read and one that has me pondering the depth of my relationships and the beauty of a marriage that endures. Thank you to Gregory Wolfe for sending this book my way.