Thursday, September 18, 2008
The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives by Cheryl Jarvis - 240 pgs
The story told in The Necklace is both humbling and uplifting. After seeing a very expensive diamond necklace in the window of a local jewelery shop, Jonnell McLain convinces 12 other women to split the cost and share the ownership if it with her. What happens to the group of women and the community that surrounds them is as unexpected as it is interesting. The women are an unlikely bunch ranging from a shopaholic to a motorcycle riding, gun toting girl Friday, a farmer, and an interior designer. At first,the women have little in common other than the ownership of the necklace. Though from very different backgrounds and social classes, they begin to hold meetings once a month. The first meetings are designed to outline sharing guidelines and inconsequentialities such as the name for the necklace, but soon they become planning sessions for fund raisers and a place for the women to muster support for each other. When the community gets wind of the experiment, the diamonds take on a life of their own, and become not only a local conversation piece but a way for the women to share the glamour of the jewels with those who would never normally experience them. From baristas to homeless women, coworkers to brides, the diamonds become a symbol of sharing and goodwill from woman to woman, a sumptuous experience that reaches well beyond the original investors. As expected, sometimes tensions run high in the group and there are misunderstandings, but the women are able to see beyond those experiences and keep the experiment alive. Using the necklace, the women are able to champion social causes and aid many charities, including domestic violence centers, drug rehabilitation programs and specific assistance to the homeless. Among the group, the diamond necklace prompts questions of materialism, consumerism, social responsibility and the collectivism of women's society. The necklace ultimately transcends the boundaries of lavish expenditure and becomes the symbol and mascot for a great group of caring women.
I went into this book with many reservations. How, I asked myself, can anyone believe that in these harsh economic times believe that a diamond necklace can be the answer to some of our biggest problems? When people are losing their houses and can't afford gas or food, you want me to care about diamonds? I fully expected this book to be about privileged women and their proclivities for the high life. And indeed the first few chapters didn't skew my beliefs. In the first sections the women were described as exceptionally beautiful, reasonably wealthy and of an almost elite social class. Who could really relate with that? I saw the arrangement to purchase the necklace as a one woman's way to have something that was financially unfeasible, using her friends' investments as a monetary platform to reach beyond her grasp and obtain a lavish treat for herself. I was a little angry that I was expected to care about this foolishness, and that this was supposed to be a meaningful book. Then I read on, and discovered that that some of the women in this project were not so wonderfully well off and solvent: some were just scraping by, some were spiritually bereft, and some were lonely. The necklace for them became a way to make friends, something to share in a life that had become overwhelming and complicated. I began to revise my opinion. When the women began to reach out and support social causes, using the necklace to raise great amounts of money for their community, I revised again. But what really made me see the light of this book were the testimonials of random women who were gifted with the wearing of the necklace for hours, or even minutes. They spoke of feeling loved and appreciated, of being part of a group and feeling that their sacrifices in life were recognized by this one small act. Many primped and preened with the diamonds around their neck, but most just displayed a sense of awe that the diamonds had come their way. These women cherished this experience, and it made them feel loved and valued. Now, I don't necessarily think I would feel the same way, or get that thrilled about a string of diamonds around my neck, but obviously these women did. The necklace seemed to have a distinctive excitement surrounding it, and it touched everyone who came in contact with it. Though I find it a little far-fetched that a piece of jewelry can garner this type of reaction from so many people, I don't belittle them for their reaction. On the contrary, maybe in today's world we might all need something to get excited about and connect with. Maybe every community needs an experiment like The Necklace.
This is an excellent choice for book groups, as it seems to engender conversations regarding women and their friendships, along with painting a picture of what women can do when they join together. Although this is a moving read, I found the language to be a little simplistic, and the author's voice lacking in verve and poignancy. It does detract a bit from the story, but not in a way that mars the implications and realities of the book or the experiment. I didn't have much hope for this story initially, but once things started rolling and the author got past what made these women so elite and special, I found a very moving and inspiring story lurking inside these pages.