books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Friendship by Emily Gould

Bev Tunney and Amy Schein have been best friends since they were in their early twenties.  Now they’re thirty, and they are facing the realization that their friendship might not be what it once was.  While Amy is more of an East Coast spoiled rich girl who has been able to skate by without ever facing real consequences or hardship, Bev is a Midwestern girl who is barely scraping a living working as a temp while still mourning the loss of a relationship that ended years earlier.  Then she ends up pregnant, and the two women really have to face the limits of their friendship and what it means to truly, finally grow up.

Emily Gould is something of a controversial figure in the internet world, though the average reader is not likely to know that.  A former editor of the gossip site Gawker.com, Gould is fully enmeshed in the world of writing for the internet, and that is reflected in her debut novel.  Mostly a rumination on female friendship in the modern age and also a commentary on the absurdities of modern life, this is a largely successful novel, remarkable in its insights on interpersonal relationships.

It helps that Gould has a strong command of her characters and their personalities.  She lets both Amy and Bev become fully-realized characters who are full of flaws and contradictions.  She doesn’t shy away from letting them be total assholes to themselves and to one another.  But she also lets them love one another, and the scenes that are the strongest are when Bev and Amy are allowed to just sit and talk about their lives.  The novel is frequently funny, and it is also frequently uncomfortable in its portrayal of real-life stuff.

Bev and Amy are both superficial on the surface, much like the novel itself.  A casual reader might skim this book and find everyone in it to be terrible people with nothing to add to the world, but that’s only the very tip of the iceberg that is the novel’s plot.  A closer look reveals the fact that these are two women who are insanely self-involved (as young people are often wont to do), but they’re also trying to be good people.  The problem is that being truly good is really hard.

There’s a lot to unpack here about female friendship, about jealousy and competition, about what it means to be a woman in the contemporary world.  There’s also some excellent stuff about how isolating urban life can be, and how disappointing life can be when things don’t go according to plan.  Gould is an author to watch, and this is a strong debut of a novel.

Friendship by Emily Gould. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux: 2014. Library copy read for book club.

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