18 March 2021

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

This was a book I ordered on a whim after seeing it on a best of list, and it completely surprised me. Some of my favourite reads won the National Book Award, and Sigrid Nunez's The Friend has this accolade. For those of you that are triggered by anything befalling a dog, don't worry... the giant Great Dane LIVES!

The Friend is about the long-time friendship/relationship between two writers in New York. The story is written from the female writer's perspective, and it's mostly in first person. When her close writing friend unexpectedly commits suicide, she is left to care for his dog Apollo.  

'Would have, would have.' The dead dwell in the conditional, tense of the unreal. But there is also the extraordinary sense that you have become omniscient, that nothing we do or think or feel can be kept from you. The extraordinary sense that you are reading these words, that you know what they'll say even before I write them." 

The living author becomes more and more dependent on the dog's company and even risks getting evicted from her "no-pets" apartment. She spends most of her time in the wake of her friend's death reading aloud to the dog and taking him on long walks. Her friends urge her to see a therapist when they think her obsession with the dog is too much. There's this funny section in the book where she references some old-timey writer who was in love with his own dog and quotes a bunch of passages from his work.

Her obsession with the dog clearly comes from her immense grief over losing her close friend. The two had a brief romantic relationship, but she says they were always closest when he was between wives. She reflects on conversations they've had about writing and the writer's role in today's society. Some of my favourite passages were about using writing as a means of remembering: "I had forgotten how painful it is to remember, writes one of my students. And she is only eighteen years old." 

If reading really does increase empathy, as we are constantly being told thats it does, it appears that writing takes some away." 

Sigrid Nunez

Essentially this book is about grief. How we cope with losing a loved one and how we try to remember them. I've been writing in my journal every single day since the beginning of the pandemic, and I love to document when things happen ... sometimes big things like losing my job and finding a new one, and sometimes small things like how many movies I watched in 2020. I really envy talented writers and how they reflect on the big and small details of their day-to-day.

What we miss - what we lose and what we mourn - isn't it this that makes us who, deep down, we truly are. To say nothing of what we wanted in life but never got to have." 

I was not expecting to enjoy this book so much, and I ended up finishing it in two days (it's only 224 pages). I also texted my friend Ashley right away to say I have a new book I want to lend her. She has a very cute and very large dog named Kumba, and I thought she would like the comparison. Maybe she will start reading aloud to him! 

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