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A Memoir of the Things That Matter

by Beth Kephart

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 2000
ISBN: 0-618-03387-4
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

A meditation—sometimes profound and poignant, sometimes merely precious—on the importance of friends and the meanings of friendship.

Kephart (A Slant of Sun, 1998) begins with a perceptive, touching sketch of a child’s playground and ends with a small revelation that the friendless child she’s described is her own son. She then moves back into her own history, summoning memories of her first friends, examining the influences she and they had upon one another. She tells the story of her closest high-school classmate, Joanne, who betrayed her at the senior prom by showing up with the young man whom she had wished for herself. She did not see Joanne for years thereafter—and regretted the loss. “Our failure to forgive,” she writes, “becomes a terrible haunting.” (In later chapters they reconcile, and the author ends her story with an outing taken together by the two families.) In the early chapters Kephart occasionally quotes or summarizes the thoughts of other writers (Willa Cather, M.F.K. Fisher, Ernest Hemingway, William Maxwell, and James Boswell, among others), but for the most part she relies on her own experiences and observes a rough chronology as she tells stories about her friends (and family) and tries to draw general principles of friendship from them. In doing so, she sometimes fails to rise above platitude (e.g., “Falling in love changes everything” or “Friendship has rules that must be played by”), but these bromides are somewhat neutralized by her trenchant observations of children at play, by her keen accounts of the clumsy choreography of incipient friendship, and by the occasional novel insight (“No friendship . . . survives without the passionate exchange of stories”).

A curious mixture of limpid prose, compelling narrative, and greeting-card philosophy.