Friendship by Emily Gould
Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux
July, 2014, 272 pgs
It is almost impossible to discuss Emily Gould’s debut novel without discussing her biography or the controversy surrounding both her and the novel’s critical reception. Gould made a name for herself a few years ago as the editor of the gossip website Gawker, where she called out celebrities on their actions while writing very vividly about her personal life. Gould practically began the national conversation about the act of “oversharing,” which happens when people give away their most intimate thoughts and anecdotes in a public manner. The term has already made its way into the dictionary, with Webster’s New World choosing “overshare” as the Word of the Year in 2008. Oversharing cost Gould her professional respect and she quit the job shortly after she started.
I tell you this, dear reader, because Amy, the heroine of the novel, is a flailing writer in her early 30s (same age as Gould), living in New York City (where Gould lives) and is recovering her life after leaving her job as the editor of a website which focused on “mocking New York City’s rich, powerful, corrupt, ridiculous elite.” (Ahem.) Amy’s best friend, Bev, is another early 30s woman struggling to make her way in the city, though less successfully so as she bounces from job to job, roommate to roommate and ends up getting pregnant on a first date she only accepted to get the free meal. Bev’s ultimate decision to carry the child to term is discussed in a modern, unflinching way that I think many young women will appreciate.
Many are comparing the voice of the novel, unflatteringly so, to the writing on HBO’s Girls, saying Friendship is a less raw, less real version of the young, white, creative city girl struggling to find flight in the prime of her life. Many are calling it “chick lit,” a term this reviewer finds slightly misogynistic and generalizing. As a consumer who has watched the series Girls and read this book, I think the comparison is really just another way to level off the young female experience, putting all the complicated, artistic young women into the same indy letter-pressed Anthropologie box, tied up with a nice Sephora ribbon.
Part of this flack is due to some reviewers finding the plot in Friendship rather trite. Two girls in the city, an unwanted pregnancy, moving home to suburban childhood homes to recover, failed relationships with men … done already, say the critics. To which I have to ask, does every plot have to involve death and mystery, or the mechanics of magical realism, or the threat of apocalypse to make it tick? What about an originally wry, self-deprecating, intelligent, modern voice which tells the story of two women sharing an experience that countless other women (and yes, men too, of course) have shared? It’s true that the audience may be narrowed here, certainly, but as a part of that targeted audience, I defend the book’s existence, its writing and its meaning and I would encourage you, readers, to see past the hype, read past the stereotypes and derision and make up your minds for yourselves.
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