Pearlman, editor of Listen to Their Voices (1993) and A Voice of One's Own (not reviewed), has a talent for rustling up the most interesting guests for her literary salons. This new collection of essays, centering on the nature of friendship, and its importance in these women writers' lives, is no exception. What are friends for? How does one find them? How is it possible to hang onto them through all of life's vicissitudes? Pearlman's essayists approach these questions from refreshingly varying points of view -- in some cases revealing shameful secrets of their own pasts, and in others offering rousing tributes to companions who have helped make life's journey fun. Margot Livesey's luminous evocation of her isolated Scottish childhood ends with the discovery of friends in less class-conscious America who have helped her rediscover her past. Michelle Cliff celebrates her glamorous Jamaican grandmother, half Jean Rhys and half Auntie Mame, who applauded Cliff's efforts to write about long-suppressed family secrets. Jane Smiley tackles the ticklish subject of using friends as literary fodder. Wendy Wasserstein worries over competition between women friends. Carolyn See offers a vivid picture of two girls growing up poor in East Hollywood and remaining best friends as they make their marks on the world. And in a particularly unsettling piece, Angela Davis-Gardner describes a pubescent obsession with the most popular girl in her North Carolina school, a ""non-friend"" who inhabited the bookish Davis-Gardner's dreams for decades -- until the writer's progress in her work set her free. A passionate and profoundly life-affirming collection.