'Friendship' explores the bittersweet friendship of two late-20-something New Yorkers
In her new novel, high-profile blogger Emily Gould creates characters who struggle to find a path from idealistic youth to realistic adulthood.
In Friendship, prominent blogger and essayist Gould explores the bittersweet best friendship between two late-20-something women trying to forge creative careers in modern day New York City. Amidst rampant status anxiety, crumbling ideals, and the inequities of life in New York, Bev and Amy unravel and become entangled as they struggle with their emerging adulthood.
Amy benefited from early success at online magazines only to quit her job impulsively, leaving her to confront the world outside the security of her media bubble as well as her shaky romantic relationship. Bev seems unkempt, unhinged, and unlucky; when she discovers that she's pregnant from a possible date rape, her life gets thrown into sharp relief. Bev then embarks on an unusual, platonic friendship with Sally, an older, wealthy woman, who longs for a child.
Gould's strengths as a writer lie in her ability to portray contemporary women. Both main characters, who moved to Manhattan – well, Brooklyn – in order to conquer it often end up defeated. When Amy leaves her abrasive online writing job, she clings to her old glory: "I know it doesn't seem like I did anything important. But ... I got thousands of emails. Thousands! They were so mean, too." Later, her former colleague Jackie says of the relatively high salary, "You're a woman, it's the Internet ... and you're getting combat pay, basically, to deal with it."
Bev discovers that she gains something as a mother that she never received as a young, single woman – empathy. "The novelty of getting all these tacit nods of what felt like approval or at least understanding was a little bit overwhelming. She supposed it was because she was visibly doing what women her age were supposed to be doing." Even though Bev has no idea how she'll support her child on her own, there's a certain solace that comes from the approving glances of strangers.
And for Sally, the 40-something bourgeois bohemian who left Manhattan for the Hudson Valley, financial success brings comfort but not happiness. Sally reflects on her youth: "It was amazing how quickly you went from feeling uncomfortably stared at and catcalled every time you left your house to being functionally invisible. It seemed to have happened on the day Sally turned thirty-five. Or maybe by leaving the city she had broken some spell." Though Amy and Bev yearn for Sally's luxurious lifestyle, she longs for their youth, freedom, and ambition.
Though Gould's book is called "Friendship," it's about much more than, as the main characters might say, BFFs. It's about transitioning from idealistic youth to realistic adulthood, sacrificing freedom for stability, and abandoning creative lifestyles in order to craft sustainable lives.
When Amy, who refuses to get a part-time job, begs pregnant Bev for rent money, Amy says incredulously, "You're choosing the baby over me, and it's not even born yet." Yes, Amy and Bev can be impulsive and oblivious. However, they're recognizable to anyone who was ever tol, as a child, that she could grow up to be anyone she wanted to be – and later struggled to figure out who that was.
Joan Didion wrote in her essay "Goodbye to All That," "It is distinctly possible to stay too long at the Fair." And in "Friendship," we see two women who not only stay too long at the Fair but are crushed by the price of admission. While they grapple with motherhood, love, and achieving their dreams, they also struggle with buying their next meal, paying rent, and earning a living: There's a hunger to everything they do. Though "Friendship" is a modern tale astutely told, it offers the class-consciousness reminiscent of a Victorian novel.
While Gould is a master of the telling detail or the ironic turn of phrase, she sometimes falters when it comes to climactic scenes. Sally's consent to loan money to Bev seems too easily won. Amy's final confrontation with Sally lacks drama and conflict. It's in the passive-aggressive scenes where Gould shines: Amy seethes at her former colleague's new engagement ring, Bev resents Amy's thoughtless spending habits. The character's desires seem clearer when they're forced to hide them beneath the surface.
With "Friendship," Gould establishes herself as a distinctively contemporary literary voice. Her dialogue resounds, and her dark humor gives texture to the prose. And though "Friendship" focuses on young women, readers need be neither young nor female in order to enjoy it.
There's a saying that goes, "It is not enough to succeed; one’s friends must fail." This is a very human story for any of us who have ever been jealous of a friend or wished our friends were more jealous of us.