Review: The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

I knew the name of the author from a very odd but memorable 2006 novel of female friendship called The Last of Her Kind. From the get go, this new novel, The Friend, felt like a guilty pleasure. Not a real novel but a gossipy and self-conscious collection of observations of contemporary life as a writer and teacher of writing in NYC, with a narrative of the grieving of a loss and falling in love with the lost friend’s dog as the glue holding it all together.

I found this book so delicious I had to kind of parcel it out, not be greedy. The Friend felt positively wicked.

It seems that everyone the narrator knows is a writer, or married to one – except for one friend who used to be a writer, but gave it up. Several pages are devoted to this woman’s renunciation of the profession – statements and observations that nearly had me leaping out of my chair to shout “yes! Yes!” For example, the woman who has decided to give up writing describes attending readings and “feeling embarrassed for the author.” She says,

“Meanwhile I was still struggling with the novel. And then one day I said to myself, Say you don’t write this book. Weren’t there a zillion other people willing to bring novels into the world? Weren’t there, in fact, already too many novels? Did I honestly think mine would be missed? And could I justify doing something with my life, my one wild and precious life, that I knew, undone, would not be missed?

Around this time I happened to hear some writer talking on the radio. I can’t remember who it was, but for me it might as well have been God. I remember him saying that if in all the next year not a single work of fiction was published, instead of the staggering number of stories and novels we knew would be published, the effect on the world would be essentially the same.”

Ah yes. Gossipy, wicked, provocative, outrageous. Like eavesdropping on a conversation. A guilty, but highly recommended, pleasure.

JoAnn McCaig