Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Friend Who Got Away, edited by Jenny Offill & Elissa Schappell

The worst thing about this book is its cover. It's orange. And there's a silhouette of this woman in these short heels - heels so low that you wonder what the point in wearing them is, I mean, if you're going to have uncomfortable feet, why not be as tall as you can be? And she's wearing a businessy skirt and a pony tail. Quite a contradiction.

I whipped out this book on a plane, and the woman sitting next to me, with whom I am aquainted, and who is normally a very polite and well-spoken woman, glanced at the cover and said, "you're reading that?!"

Yes. Yes I am. I've been waiting to read The Friend Who Got Away for quite some time now because, as stated in the introduction,

"The loss of a friendship can be nearly as painful as a bitter divorce or death. And yet it is a strange sort of heartbreak, one that is rarely discussed, even in our tell-all society. Tales of disastrous loves abound, but there is something about a failed friendship that makes those involved guard it like a shameful secret."

Hmm. Yeah. That sounds about right. I can immediately think of two friends that I've lost. One I'm mostly okay with having lost, but the other friend - well it makes shudder to think of how close we were, and how poorly I treated her in the end. The way our friendship sputtered out, and how we half-heartedly tried to reconnect every now and again, but never could even get on the same page, and were always somehow offending each other, sometimes accidentally but sometimes on purpose, that is one of my shameful secrets. I never talk about it, (at least not without tearing up), and try not to even think about it, because it makes me feel like a bad friend, and even worse, a bad person. Friendship has the potential to last forever, and when it doesn't, it can really make us feel horrible.

There are twenty stories in this collection - true stories of lost friendship - and I enjoyed most of them. My favorites are the opening story, Katie Roiphe's "Torch Song," Mary Morris' "The Other Face," and Beverly Gologorsky's "In a Whirlwind." The first is about Katie as a college student, who carelessly sleeps with her friend's crush. Katie didn't even like the boy, and hardly found him attractive. Even today, she can't say why she did it, except to remark, "I was fulfilling some misplaced idea of myself. I was finally someone who took things lightly." The second is about Mary, her life long family friend Lauren, and the perils of borrowing money from a friend. The third touched me mostly because Beverly and Jessica came of age in such a different era - the late sixties and early seventies. They were both involved in various protests and civil rights movements, and fell out during a disagreement over whether men should be able to walk in a march for women's rights. Their friendship was lost over ideological conviction. Damn.

Emily White's "End Days," nearly makes the cut of my top three. It's about a friendship between two sixth graders, a hardcore Christian girl who believes the apocolypse will happen any day now and Emily, whose family doesn't have religion. Doesn't everyone have those cringe-worthy memories where we've made fun of someone who was perfectly nice, even wonderful to us? Some good person with "wacky" beliefs? I certainly have.

My least favorite stories were (surprisingly) Dorothy Allison's, which wasn't just about one friend, but various friends and lovers, and didn't have the type of focus I was looking for in this anthology, though it had some beautiful writing - Patricia Marx's, which was too short and too vague, too much like an outline of a friendship without the characters and details - and, I'm sort of embarassed to say, but Jennifer Gilmore's "The Kindness of Strangers" was very hard for me to read. It's about Jennifer as a twenty-something who has to have her colon removed, and her rancorous and jealous thoughts. I'm sure the story was therapuetic for Gilmore to write, but after reading about how miserable her life was, I was hoping for some sort of redemption. Even a cheesy epilog would have helped. Because each of these stories has such a sad ending (except for Nuar Alsadir, whose "friend" really needed to get lost), and Gilmore's illness was so grueling, I felt like the anthology needed to end on a somewhat happy note.

I wouldn't recommend reading this collection in one sitting. Are collections or anthologies meant to be read in one sitting? I'm not sure, but after reading maybe five or seven stories in a row I started to read each new one with a palpable sense of almost dread - like a mix of sadness and dread, because you know that all of these wonderful friendships will fail. It's gets depressing after a while. But it's also a bit thrilling to so intimately eavesdrop on an aspect of these womens' lives. The topic of lost friends is something that I simply can't talk about with this kind of honesty and objectivity with my friends. And I talk about everything with my friends!

Even though it's far from perfect, and you will certainly get some funny looks if you read it in public, I would recommend The Friend Who Got Away to any woman who's ever lost a friend, and feels guilty. Which is to say, I'd recommend it to every woman.


riese said...

If only you'd had my UNCORRECTED PROOF! Did you see it when I was reading it? It's not orange. It's like, blue, with photo strips on it a la "same sex and the.." you know.

It was depressing cuz at the end I was like "holy shit, all my friends are gonana get married and change and leave me forever." I think they shoulda had more young voices in thtere.

I liked "Torch Song" too, but I LOVED the Dorothy Allison piece. It kinda reminded me of my story! hehee! (the "new york stories' story?) I made Hav read it on the airplane to georgia, i think. Somehow the Kate Bernheimer story stuck with me too, and I loved "Emily" and "It Felt Like Love" and "Want" (Hav liked "want" too).

BookCannibal9 said...

That's interesting that you wished for younger voices - it was sort of refreshing for me to read about older women (and in the case of Beverly Gologorsky, MUCH older women) because the stories of women in college and in their twenties are so much like my own life, and there's still this hope that the estranged friends will reconnect later in life.

Not that I don't like to read about myself, or people who have experiences like my own, but it was interesting to see that older (and supposedly more mature) women act just like little girls when it comes to losing a friend. They are just as shy and scared. You just want to scream at them, "talk to her, call her for god's sake, it's been twenty years!"

The older women's stories are that much more tragic and depressing. I'm such a masochist.

But that won't happen to us, right? We won't harbor a secret longing for twenty years, right? We'll never have regrets, or keep our feelings to ourselves, right? Right?

unicorngirl said...

This book sounds really interesting, although I would never have picked it up before I read your review. I love Katie Roiphe however. Her book Still She Haunts Me, a fictitious account of the life of Lewis Caroll, is one of my top ten favorite books ever. Thanks for your comments on my Special Topics Review. That is so cool that you got to meet the author.

Lauren said...

I loved the book, The Friend Who Got Away. It actually helped me immensely when one of my long term friendships ended. It is a well written and very engaging book.

I was surprised ( a little), by the seemingly sarcastic comment of the women on the plane who commented to the reviewer, "Are you reading THAT?" I guess a number of people don't like to admit, even to themselves, that there was that one (or more) friend who "got away".

Anyway, great book . I loved it.