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Book Review: The Bunco Club

The Bunco ClubKaren DeWitt. Published by Frame Masters, Ltd., Matteson, IL, 2013, Trade Paperback and e-book, 412 pages.

Reviewed by Brinda Gupta

In the tradition of celebrations of female friendships like Steel Magnolias, Karen DeWitt’s The Bunco Club lets us into the world of eight good friends. Though the eight have very different domestic situations and unique struggles, they bond over a shared love of quilting and a beloved monthly Bunco game. DeWitt structures the novel by month, focusing on the woman hosting each month’s game. Through the eight months, we get to know artistic Lettie; single mom Phree; career woman Nedra; Rosa, the mother of a delinquent teenager; anal-retentive Marge; Helen, the mother of a bullied girl; hoarder Beth; and dowdy Nancy. Each section tells about one woman’s career and home life, culminating in the monthly Bunco parties that see the women’s stories weave together.

DeWitt juggles the eight lives well. The challenges faced by the characters vary enough to continually renew the reader’s interest. Some stories are more compelling than others. Lettie, specifically, serves as a narrative device to introduce the novel; after her few chapters, she really only appears to give advice to the others. Helen’s story of helping her bullied daughter may be sadly relatable for many parents, but the stakes didn’t seem high enough to make me care about her.

Some of the stories give great insight into the characters, like Beth’s heart-wrenching attempts to keep from falling apart as her father falls ill and she battles her own hoarding tendencies. I really enjoyed Phree’s story, as her “problem” is unique. I won’t give away what she finds, but her chapters revolve around trying to figure out how to handle a great windfall. Though the other women’s more typical problems—rebellious children, nonexistent love lives—are easy to sympathize with, it’s Phree’s unexpected adventure that shows the author’s creativity. Overall, though, the women’s backstories are well thought out and conveyed.

Framing the action around the group’s monthly get-togethers is an effective way to keep the characters distinct. Learning about friends’ old traditions also serves as great comfort reading, and the author ups the cozy factor by including recipes from the various menus at the back of the book. I actually would have loved it if an additional appendix had explained the rules of Bunco. Knowledge of the game isn’t necessary for enjoying the book, however.

DeWitt’s writing style is clear and accessible. My only complaint is with the abundance of similes used for description. In other parts of the book, DeWitt’s command of description is fantastic, so falling on “dead as a doornail”-type similes seems like a waste. Her straightforward use of adjectives to set up atmosphere demonstrates her skill much more effectively.

Many stories involving friendships have such a wacky cast of characters that it’s impossible to believe that the individuals would be friends in real life. That isn’t a problem at all with The Bunco Club—I believe that these women would choose to spend time together and care about each other. Adult friendships can be as frustrating as they are rewarding, and Karen DeWitt paints a warm, entertaining picture of eight women who drive each other crazy while still helping each other through life.

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