Friends. More than just the subject of cute songs or funny sit-coms, our friendships with other women are essential to good health and well being. (If you don’t believe me, read this great essay by ATG Editor Roxanne Ravenel.)
As Anna Quindlen writes in her new memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, “Ask any woman how she makes it through the day, and she many mention her calendar, her to-do lists, her babysitter. But if you push her on how she really makes it through her day, or, more important, her months and years…she will mention her girlfriends. The older we get, the more we understand that the women who know and love us…are the joists that hold up the house of our existence.”
My summer reading certainly reinforces this idea. This quartet of books about friendship demonstrates the way our friends can impact our lives – for better or worse.
Into the Tangle of Friendship, by Beth Kephart, looks at the nature of friendship through stories of the author’s own connections with people. What is the secret that brings people together as friends at different times and stages in their existence? With her trademark sensitivity and poetic language, Kephart answers this question by telling the stories of an intertwining cast of characters, including that of her young son as he makes his first forays into the tangle of friendship.
In Let’s Take the Long Way Home, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Gail Caldwell explores her particular friendship with fellow writer Caroline Knapp. They met because of their dogs, but soon became inseparable friends, sharing everything from their struggles with alcohol, their relationships with the wrong men, and their love of books. Both extremely private, self-reliant women, the forged a bond neither one had known the likes of before. But then, the unthinkable happens. “It’s an old, old story,” the book begins. “I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and we shared that too.” In this exquisitely written memoir, Caldwell delves into her deepest grief, but also the deepest joys of a true friendship.
The friendship between two writers is also the subject of novelist Ann Patchett’s memoir, Truth and Beauty. In it she shares the story of her relationship with Lucy Greely, a poet and writer who suffered from a form of cancer that required seemingly endless treatments and ultimately cost her a portion of her jaw, leading to numerous reconstructive surgeries. It’s a see-saw relationship – Greely has huge emotional needs, in addition to her physical ones, and Patchett’s herculean efforts to “be there” for her friend often take a great toll on her own psychic well being. “Her (Greely’s) grief about feeling ugly and her desire to be loved in a way that would be huge enough to meet her needs would regularly roll her into a little ball and paralyze her. Lucy’s sadness terrified me. Listen to me, I told her. You aren’t going to be alone. You’re going to have me.” A heavy burden for a young woman, but one Patchett shoulders admirably until Greely’s death.
Friendship is not just the stuff of memoir. In Nicole Bernier’s excellent debut novel, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D., we meet Kate who inherits her best friend’s journals after her friend dies suddenly in a plane crash. While reading them she comes face to face with a completely different person than the one she thought she knew. Kate’s manner of coping with these revelations about her friend and dealing with her own ensuing feelings of confusion and anger provide a compelling look at the nature of women’s lives and the secrets we keep even from those closest to us. Set in the time period right after September 11, 2001, at a time when the very nature of life seemed tenuous, the novel invites us to think about the ways we can feel safe in a modern world where deception and danger seem to lurk at every corner.
All of these books offer provoking ideas about women’s friendships, and are perfect for sharing with your own friends.
What books about friendship have you read? How are your friendships meaningful n your life today?