Offill (Last Things, 1999) and Schappell (Use Me, 2000) address the timeless topic of women’s friendships from an innovative vantage point.
In their mixed-bag but mostly captivating anthology, 20 women reflect on amities that have ended. They describe friendships of all sorts—sad, zany, co-dependent—finished off by various factors: a fight, a move, a lie, cheating, death, etc. Lesbian sex sinks some; others fall apart when one person suddenly makes a new friend. College friendships, unsurprisingly, occupy a lot of space. Emily Chenoweth describes her short, heady fling with freshman hall-mate Heather, and novelist Elizabeth Strout writes somewhat more banally about her eventual decision to drop a college pal. Nicole Keeter contributes a luminous essay about being the first black girl in a small town in Iowa and the friendship that developed between her and Gina, another African American who came to town a few years later. Vivian Gornick tells of her friend Emma, “with whom I was certain I would grow old”—a certainty that proved untrue. Kate Bernheimer’s affecting essay, although not exactly about a friend “who got away,” is one of the most satisfying pieces here. Her two best buddies easily got pregnant, while she suffered multiple miscarriages. Their three-way friendship didn’t end, exactly, but it certainly shifted and strained and fell into silence. Patricia Marx lightens the tenor of the collection with her hilarious satire “Tenure.” She strikes the single unusual note in a gathering that eventually feels repetitive. One wishes that more of the authors had moved from straightforward autobiography to reflection on the nature of friendship. The editors’ four-page foreword doesn’t provide this, and neither do many of the essays.
A book to savor, despite its imperfections. But think twice before giving it to your best friend.