& Review: Friendship by Emily Gould

Friendship by Emily Gould. Fiction. Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Friendship by Emily Gould. Fiction. Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Book Itself: Get it? Friendships are the ties that bind? And there are ropes on the cover? Joking aside, it’s a solid illustration. Simple, metaphoric.

My Review: Bev Tunney and Amy Schein have been best friends for years; now, at thirty, they’re at a crossroads. Bev is a Midwestern striver still mourning a years-old romantic catastrophe. Amy is an East Coast princess whose luck and charm have too long allowed her to cruise through life. Bev is stuck in circumstances that would have barely passed for bohemian in her mid-twenties: temping, living with roommates, drowning in student-loan debt. Amy is still riding the tailwinds of her early success, but her habit of burning bridges is finally catching up to her. And now Bev is pregnant.

As Bev and Amy are dragged, kicking and screaming, into real adulthood, they have to face the possibility that growing up might mean growing apart.

Friendship, Emily Gould’s debut novel, traces the evolution of a friendship with humor and wry sympathy. Gould examines the relationship between two women who want to help each other but sometimes can’t help themselves; who want to make good decisions but sometimes fall prey to their own worst impulses; whose generous intentions are sometimes overwhelmed by petty concerns.

Friendship is a book you think you’ve read before. In my review of In Some Other World, Maybe (review here – spoiler alert: I liked that one), I mentioned that it’s a plot that gets used a lot: modern day friendship or family-hood, the tracking of a handful of lives as they figure out their place in the world. So a book that does this has to bring something unique to the table.

And Friendship does. Up to a point.

For starters, it’s relatable. I can point to a lot of instances that brought me back to specific memories from my own female friendships. And, as someone brought up in a technology-rich time period, those instances where Bev and Amy blogged and texted their way to understanding made a lot of sense to me. Social media and messaging equipment at your beck and call make it easy to decimate a person’s feelings or ask your friend to bolster you up during your lunch break at the touch of a finger. Friendship does a great job slyly pointing out how both dangerous and useful this can be.

This book also captures the utter helplessness that entire people’s lives, whether twenty-something or thirty-something (and beyond). When we meet Amy and Bev, one of them is a wreck, the other barely hanging on to what seems like a pretty decent life: work, housing, love, etc. Then we watch as the tables turn, and how each woman uniquely adjusts to

I liked the way Friendship dealt with time. There weren’t dates or time stamps (“SIX MONTHS LATER,” or “THE NEXT WEEK”) that told you what to feasibly expect. Instead, the passing of time comes across in the writing. It’s been a couple months since Amy has talked to Bev. Three months after this, this is how her job is doing. It’s a subtle, realistic portrayal of the slippery aspect of time. How many months has it been since I talked to so-and-so? Wait, that girl I was friends with in high school has two kids now? Where did the years go? That’s the kind of thing I think Friendship is illustrating well.

But it does slip. When the focus slides from our two main characters – the friendship backbone in a book called Friendship – the book loses focus. Sally, a woman the two girls house-sit for in the beginning of the novel, and become inextricably and confusingly entwined with as the novel closes, draws away from what should be the story’s central focus. Some chapters are told jarringly from her point of view, when she’s not as compelling as Amy or Bev. Her role in one of their lives particularly (sorry that’s vague – it’s a little spoiler-y) I found to be pretty unrealistic.  I suppose she’s there to simplify one of their lives and complicate the other, but it was just distracting. I wasn’t a fan of Ms. Sally.

It’s a nice story. Not groundbreaking, but it had some lovely moments. Even heartbreaking, for those of us who haven’t spoken to a friend for a while, for whatever reason.

My Grade: C+


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