New novel by Rebecca Drake tests the bonds of friendship
The idea for Rebecca Drake's new novel, “Just Between Friends” (St. Martin's Griffin), came from a conversation she had with a friend: If someone they knew committed a crime, would they offer protection or contact the authorities?
“How far would I go to help a friend? How loyal would I be?” asks Drake, who appears Jan. 11 at Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley and Jan. 18 at Riverstone Books in McCandless.
“To me, the questions that are provoked by this book are how far would you go to help a friend and how much do you really know about another person's marriage.”
In “Just Between Friends,” those questions are put to four women who have bonded over their school-age children in Sewickley. Sarah, Julie, Alison and Heather share coffee and wine, talk about their kids and gossip about other mothers. When Heather starts showing bruises, her friends immediately suspect she's being abused by her husband, a successful surgeon and minor Pittsburgh celebrity.
That the book is being published as the #metoo movement crests is a “happy accident,” says Drake, who lives in the Fox Chapel area and teaches writing in the MFA program at Seton Hill University in Greensburg. But she knows victims of domestic violence and helped a friend leave an abusive relationship, and researched similar situations for the book.
“It's so hard to convince somebody to leave a relationship,” Drake says. “It's really difficult. When you're on the outside you can be very frustrated by that. Why won't they leave, why do they stay? But sometimes, like Heather, people feel like they don't have options.”
The novel turns when the women are called to Heather's home late one night and discover a crime scene – to say anymore would ruin the book's surprise – and are faced with a decision that changes their lives in unforeseen ways. The group that bonded over shared concerns of raising children starts to fray and react differently in tandem over how to proceed after witnessing the crime.
“One of the things I was interested in exploring was communication,” Drake says. “How we feed each other's myths about one another, how we can feed emotions. One person alone might not do something, but if two or three people are there, then it can be a catalyst for action, and a catalyst for how invested they get into it.”
Drake tells the story through each of the main characters, alternating chapters in the first person. This device proved to be more challenging than the author thought it would be, but allowed Drake the freedom to explore multiple viewpoints.
She also purposely set the novel in Sewickley — her previous novel, “Only Ever You,” was set in Fox Chapel — because of a longstanding fear of smaller places.
“I'm a native New Yorker and so I'm a little more urban by nature, and I'm more frightened by suburban areas,” Drake says. “So I'm intrigued by this idea of how we think of the suburbs – and I live in a very nice suburb and Sewickley is a very nice suburban village, it's very idyllic – that are on the surface beautiful. I think there are many communities like this that are very affluent and delightful and many people would love to live there. But there's crime everywhere, and I'm more interested in that.”
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.