Book Review

April '18

The Friend (Hardcover)
Sigrid Nunez


   This is such an unusual book – I finished it and started it all over again immediately.

   Small, 212 pages, and a nice sized book to hold in your hands. On the brightly colored cover, a dog – a Harlequin Great Dane, which looks like a cross between a Great Dane and a Dalmatian because of the spots.

   The Friend – who is the title character? Many friends, most unnamed, and the nameless main character, in a first person narrative, seems to be talking about them, to them, and talking to the dog, wishing it could talk back.

   Early on is a memorial service for an author/professor who our narrator knew well – she was one of his students, and a lover, despite the characters of Wife One, Wife Two and Wife Three. The deceased committed suicide and suicide is much talked about and wondered about in The Friend. (Somehow I did not find that depressing or grim.)

   Our narrator is also a writer, though not very successful it seems. She is serving as a writing mentor for women recovering from trauma, which she is urged to use as the basis of a book. Literary references abound; when talking about a subject, our narrator quotes literary greats, which I found fascinating. The future of writing, of fiction, of books is pondered, and has kept me thinking.
The book is told mostly in dialogue; interior, written, in person.

   There are many friends in the book, mostly unnamed, except notably for the Great Dane Apollo, a posthumous “gift” from the suicide author/professor. This gift of a 180 pound dog does not fit well into a rent controlled 500 square foot Manhattan apartment which forbids pets, though “love will find a way.”
   Heller McAlpin, reviewing for NPR, sums this book up as follows. “Nunez deftly turns this potentially mawkish story into a penetrating, moving meditation on loss, comfort, memory, what it means to be a writer today, and various forms of love and friendship.”
I agree! I can’t wait to read this for the second time, and I know it will be an interesting book club discussion!

Published February 2018