The epigraph to Emily Gould’s debut novel, FRIENDSHIP, opens with a quote from David Foster Wallace’s THE PALE KING: “If I wanted to matter—even just to myself, I would have to be less free, by deciding to choose in some kind of definite way. Even if it was nothing more than an act of will.” The narrator, a reluctant nihilist, realizes the price of her careless freedom came at a cost—her own self-respect. The passage reminded me of Joan Didion’s essay on self-respect, one of my coming-of-age gospels. Self-respect necessitates a certain discipline, a knowingness of one’s own worth, “a private reconciliation,” she writes. It’s a choice. An act of will.
In FRIENDSHIP, Gould’s characters, Bev Tunney and Amy Schein, come to a breaking point. Amy’s captivating manners and manipulations have allowed her to indulge in petty irresponsibility for most of her adult life. Nearing thirty, Amy works at a blog, dates a painter, spends money she doesn’t have, ignores her parents’ calls, avoids her landlord, and dodges any moral liability, except with Bev, her closest friend. Lacking Amy’s self-assurance, Bev is too easily towed by attention or affection. After dropping her life in the city to move with her adulterous boyfriend, Bev briefly attends an MFA program, only to drop out and land a few thousand dollars more in debt. In the opening scene, Bev applies for a temp job. Soon one of her colleagues will knock her up.
Throughout FRIENDSHIP, these women are faced with “choices,” a euphemism now flattened to encompass any political demand. But for Gould’s characters, the choices they reluctantly make transcend the superficial to life-changing—keeping a baby, quitting a job, breaking up, leaving New York—as the veneer of stability around themselves and their friendship begins to crumble. They must, as Didion writes, “exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve.” They must accept responsibility for their own lives.
Told with Gould’s genuine wit, truly pleasurable to read, this book reminded me that friendship isn’t simply granted. Like self-respect, it isn’t an inalienable right. Rather, one must choose to foster friendship. For Amy and Bev, their toughest and most important choice, ultimately, is to choose each other.
Ana Cecilia Alvarez is the web editor of Adult-mag.com.
Part of Broad City’s appeal is its depiction of female friendship—Abbi and Ilana are inseparable and they know each other better than they know themselves. Their on-screen chemistry is what makes the show. In Friendship, the protagonists are (spoiler!) also best friends, also in New York, and also struggling with things like money and acting like an adult. People magazine calls the book “a wry, sharply observed coming-of-age story for the post-recession era.”