Brunch and Other Obligations (She Writes Press) by Suzanne Nugent is a bright and witty debut novel — and what readers will hope is her first of many. Committed to writing about women’s lives and relationships, Nugent has introduced us to four totally disparate young women. Three are grieving the loss of the fourth, Molly, without whom it is obvious the remaining three would never have met.

Molly, in her wildly vibrant short life of 34 years, had built solid bonds with her best friends Nora, Leanne and Christina. Nora, Leanne, and Christina, however, have never built any bonds with one another. In fact, they don’t even like each other, and they’re looking forward to never having to see each other after the funeral. Which was, in their opinions, the worst funeral ever. Who would put “Dancing Queen” on a funeral playlist?

The hope that they would never have to make small talk together again is dashed when Molly’s mother calls them together to claim “gifts” that Molly has left them — gifts they don’t want, accompanied by cryptic notes and a deathbed request that the women have Sunday brunch once a month for a year. So they haul off their presents and grudgingly agree to have brunch.

They do indeed have their monthly brunch, but it’s the “other obligations” that drive this wonderful story of friendship and honesty.  Through flashbacks and recollections, we get to know Molly, who, with her tattoos and audacious spirit, sparked something in each of her friends. Without her, they’re a little bit lost, drowning in those “obligations” — both real and imagined.

Nora, a sweet but hopeless recluse, struggles daily to avoid people and conversations; Leanne, with her husband who loves her dearly, is trying to get pregnant; and Christina, in her flawless designer wardrobe and Manolo Blahniks, is caring for her aging mother who is losing her grip on reality by the day. 

Without Molly, they’ve been set adrift. From the grave, Molly steers. The women, mystified by the inappropriate gifts their friend has left them, slowly begin to “get it.”  Nugent’s readers might be one step ahead of the girls, or snapping-to when enough events fit together like some enormous, real-life jigsaw puzzle.

Nugent easily slides from one woman’s “obligations” to another, braiding their stories together while inviting her readers to fall in love with all of them. Including the invisible Molly, whose love for her friends is the strongest force in the book — the very definition of a catalyst.

For dog-lovers and dog-haters, Francophiles, caregivers, wives, mothers, girlfriends and introverts, Brunch and Other Obligations will be a good read. For those who don’t fall into any of those categories, Molly would have found the perfect inappropriate, unwanted gift.

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Suzanne Nugent is a writer committed to exploring women’s lives and relationships through poignant comedy (or funny drama, depending on your level of optimism). She was shortlisted for the prestigious Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting and has received accolades from the Denver Film Festival and the San Francisco Writers Conference. She holds a dual degree in journalism and film from UMass Amherst and studied screenwriting at UCLA. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son. Brunch and Other Obligations is her first novel.