The Short Review: A beautiful meditation on writing, grief, a Great Dane, and the ways we perceive fiction.
The Long Review: I’m a firm believer that when you read a book has just as much to do with your reception of a novel as the novel itself. I loved this book, but it’s because it deals with subject matter that interests me and felt timely to the things I’ve been going through in my life over the past few years. So, here’s the reasons I loved it. If you love these things, you might love this book. If you don’t…maybe give it a shot anyway.
The book doesn’t have much of a narrative. It’s just not that kind of book. The best way to describe it is a collection of vignettes and fictional essays from the writer about the state she’s in after her friend passes away, and the thoughts she has on everything in her life post-grief. I’ve never had a problem when books don’t have much plot, but if you’re used to a more straight forward narrative structure, this might be harder to acclimate to.
The writing is thoughtful and lovely, and I appreciated everything she had to say about grief and writing. If you’ve never had a conversation with literature professors, just know that this book captures them too well. There’s the great conversations they have and the ways they think, but also how they sometimes are willing to sacrifice certain crucial things in the name of the written word, and the ways certain intellectual people have a superiority that isn’t necessary or wholly related to their success.
The Great Dane was so interesting to read about, and I love dogs. I know someone said they hated dogs and hated this book for talking so much about them, so I guess if you hate dogs, this book isn’t for you either.
The ways this book talks about grief felt so relevant to the ways I’d been feeling since the personal loss I experienced earlier this year. I think that might have a lot to do with part of my positive reception of this book. It just felt so honest and so real to what I was feeling at the time.
There’s this idea that some books speak to each other. One book will be written dealing with certain themes and ideas, and then another person will write a book that works as a type of response or companion to the first one. The Friend does this with two other books I’ve read this year. Florida by Lauren Groff and How to Write An Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee. The Friend works as a fictional memoir of sorts. The way it’s written is very stylistic of some of the great memoirs and it references a lot of things that connect the book to Sigrid Nunez. Lauren Groff did something similar with Florida by playing with the expectations of the reader and how they associate authors with their work. Alexander Chee’s essay collection pokes fun at this idea that no writer can write anything that isn’t their own story. These books all bring this up, and while I don’t think one is necessary to read in order to understand the other, I think reading each one has deepened my appreciation of the other.
So, yeah…those were my main thoughts about this book and the reasons I liked it. A little more of a list of reasons than a full review, but I think that’s fitting giving the structure of this novel. If you’ve read it, comment your thoughts below!