When I survey my stacks of books, there is a paucity of lighthearted novels. Most of them are stories of heartbreak, love gone awry or family conflict, and while these novels are well written, they tend to leave me with a slight sense of despair. Enter Lauren Fox (author of "Still Life With Husband") and her second novel, "Friends Like Us."

Willa and Jane are best friends muddling their way through their mid-20s when Willa reconnects with her old friend Ben at a high school reunion. Seeing him brings about "the lingering sadness of unfinished business" and she and Ben try to find their way back to a friendship that never ran its full course. When Jane and Ben fall in love, Willa plays the supportive friend, but she wants to have her cake and eat it, too, and fools herself into making an irreversible decision that ultimately leaves her with an empty plate.

Fox, who earned an MFA from the University of Minnesota in 1998, includes the elements of many good novels in "Friends Like Us" -- heartbreak, love gone awry, family conflict -- and infuses her writing with a clever, unforced humor that softens the edges of uncomfortable scenes. As I finished "Friends Like Us" I did not despair, but reminisced about that bittersweet time of life that Fox captures perfectly with a writing style that rings with the familiarity of a long-lost friend.