Monday, July 27, 2009

Friends Like These: My Worldwide Quest to Find My Best Childhood Friends, Knock on Their Doors, and Ask Them to Come Out and Play

(Photo: Danny Wallace, on left, and three of the childhood friends with whom he reconnected)

Danny Wallace, U.K. television personality and writer, is best known in this country for Yes Man, the book on which a recent Jim Carey movie was based. Unlike the movie, however, Wallace’s book purports to be non-fiction. He claims to have actually said “yes” to every invitation or opportunity put to him over a six-month period and seems to have largely benefitted from the experience. I mention this to emphasize the kind of wacky personality Danny Wallace seems to have and because Friends Like These is another of Wallace’s off-center memoirs.

Fast approaching thirty years of age in 2006, the calendar-age Danny Wallace considers the start of adulthood, Wallace finds that he has no desire to become an adult. In fact, the very idea of becoming an adult terrifies him. So when an old address book he hasn’t seen in years turns up, it seems only natural to him that he should look up his twelve best childhood friends. After all, they, too, are on the verge of turning thirty years old.

Wallace’s task is made a bit more difficult than it might have otherwise been by the fact that he spent some of his childhood years in Scotland, some in Germany, and some in England. Nevertheless, blessed with what seems to be a saint of a wife who encourages him to do it, he confidently embarks on a personal quest to “update his address book” before the birthday that will magically turn him into “a man.” How, he wonders, are his friends handling their own personal traumas of becoming adults with adult responsibilities?

On the whole, it appears that they are handling their thirtieths a bit more successfully than Danny is handling his. Despite having been warned that he would find all his old friends working in IT, Danny actually finds them filling a variety of roles. Among his personal Top 12, are a research doctor, a hip-hop rapper, a restaurant manager, a newspaperman, and one old friend who actually does work in the IT department of a major bank. Danny’s search, equal amounts adventure and misadventure, will ultimately take him across the world and require stops in the United States, Australia and Japan. Best of all for Danny, is that, for the first time in his life, he will come away from a project with the sense that he has finished something he started – a goal he never achieved as a kid.

Danny Wallace is a funny man, and a clever writer, and he fills Friends Like These with numerous incidents that will make the reader wonder how such a hapless adventurer could possibly accomplish so much. After all, a man who manages to wedge himself so tightly into a tiny Japanese toilet stall (Danny is a big man and he was wearing a backpack at the time) that he has to cry for help before sheer panic sets in does little to inspire confidence, does he?

Friends Like These is more than slapstick comedy. Wallace has a way with words that allows him to pepper the reader with little one-line zingers almost at will, one-liners that always produce at least a smile, and sometimes much more. No matter the situation, he maintains his sense-of-humor and laughs at himself as much as his readers will laugh at him. At 400 pages, however, some of Wallace’s efforts and friend descriptions begin to become repetitious and hard to distinguish from one another, a flaw that will have some readers wishing that he would just get on with it.

This is a funny book but it does prove the point that sometimes “less is more.”

Rated at: 3.5


  1. This looks like fun. Gotta sympathize about the Japanese toilet stall...did that back in February. Didn't have to call for help, but I felt kind of Alice-in-Wonderland-ish.

  2. I read the review once and was horrified - 400 pages of Man-Child's last stand? Spare me, please! ("Fast approaching thirty" myself, I sometimes feel I'd do anything to have come of age at a time when being a real grown-up weren't avoided like a horrible disease.)

    Then I read it a second time and was intrigued. I grew up all over, too (Navy) and occasionally think of what it would be like to run into people I knew in childhood - I'm basically not in touch with anybody I knew before college, to be honest. So I get how that project would appeal. It's also interesting to think that social networking has changed a lot, even since 2006, and I could probably find and make personal contact with dozens of those people - well, tonight, if I wanted to.

  3. Definitely fun, Suzi, but I did find myself wishing it were about 50-75 pages shorter. It needed an editor with a good pair of scissors...still fun to read, though.

  4. Mella, Wallace mentions all the clues and connections he made through Facebook but some of the names he was searching for, even the Asian ones, were so common that Facebook was pretty frustrating for him.

    I don't identify with going through this kind of thing at age 30, but I was drawn to the book because I've been contacting old friends where I can find them lately myself...some 30 years beyond the age when Danny Wallace felt the urge to do so.

    I've had hits and misses in the far.