The Friend Who Got Away : Twenty Women's True Life Tales of Friendships that Blew Up, Burned Out or Faded Away
Losing a friend can be as painful and as agonizing as a divorce or the end of a love affair, yet it is rarely written about or even discussed. THE FRIEND WHO GOT AWAY is the first book to address this near-universal experience, bringing together the brave, eloquent voices of writers like Francine Prose, Katie Roiphe, Dorothy Allison, Elizabeth Strout, Ann Hood, Diana Abu Jabar, Vivian Gornick, Helen Schulman, and many others. Some write of friends who have drifted away, others of sudden breakups that took them by surprise. Some even celebrate their liberation from unhealthy or destructive relationships. Yet at the heart of each story is the recognition of a loss that will never be forgotten.
From stories about friendships that dissolved when one person revealed a hidden self or moved into a different world, to tales of relationships sabotaged by competition, personal ambition, or careless indifference, THE FRIEND WHO GOT AWAY casts new light on the meaning and nature of women's friendships. Katie Roiphe writes with regret about the period in her life when even close friends seemed expendable compared to men and sex. Mary Morris reveals how a loan led to the unraveling of a lifelong friendship. Vivian Gornick explores how intellectual differences eroded the bond between once inseparable companions. And two contributors, once best friends, tell both sides of the story that led to their painful breakup.
Written especially for this anthology and touched with humor, sadness, and sometimes anger, these extraordinary pieces simultaneously evoke the uniqueness of each situation and illuminate the universal emotions evoked by the loss of a friend.
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May 08, 2006
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Excerpt from The Friend Who Got Away by Jenny Offill
My memory of Stella, at nineteen, is neither as crisp nor as detailed as it should be. It's only with a tremendous effort of will that I can bring her into focus at all. She is wearing a complicated black outfit that looks like rags pinned together with safety pins, and black stockings, with deliberate runs laddering her legs. Her skin is translucent, the color of skim milk, and her matted, dyed blond hair looks about as plausibly human as the hair of a much loved doll. Under her eyes are extravagant circles, plum colored and deep. She always looks haggard. No one that age looked haggard the way she looked haggard. And yet, as one came to know her, that was part of her romance.
Stella was from the South. I remember her being from a trailer park, but it may have been a small, sleepy town. She had some sort of unspeakable tragedy in her background, which added to the quality of southern gothic she cultivated. In my picture of her, she is curled up on a mahogany windowsill, with a Faulkner novel, but in reality, she was one of those brilliant college students whose minds are clamoring too loudly with their own noise to read much.
On good days, Stella looked as if she were late to the most important meeting of her life; on bad days, she looked if she were being hunted down by organized and insidious forces. She was also one of the most powerful people in our Harvard class. She was monumentally, conspicuously damaged in a way that was, to us then, ineffably chic. She had an entourage of followers and hangers-on, mostly men of ambiguous sexual preference whose mothers had given them exotic, weighty names like Byron and Ulysses. She had an authentically doomed streak that was to the rest of us, future bankers, editors, lawyers, future parents of one point five children, and mortgage holders, uniquely appealing. And the whole time I knew her she was writing something--a detective story? a play? a thriller?--something with a murder in it, I think, but whatever it was, it added to the impression that she was engaged in more important endeavors than the rest of us. She talked in the cartoon bubbles of comic book characters: "Oh ho." Or "Jumping Juniper." Or "Iced cold beverage," or "Eek." This was part of an elaborate, stylized defense, against the softness associated with sincerity.
And yet, the perfection of her cool was pleasantly undermined by an ambience of frazzled vulnerability. She was overweight, and had a flinching relationship with her own body. If you caught a glimpse of her coming down Plympton Street at dusk, you might mistake her self-deprecating shuffle for that of a homeless person. In retrospect, I can see that she was kind of wonderful looking, with her fabulous, disheveled gestalt, but at the time being overweight was an enormous, almost insurmountable, taboo. She had a great, pure throaty laugh, which went along with a child's pleasure in the smallest things. I can see her clapping her hands in delight over a chocolate sundae or a gardenia-scented candle.
She was one of the few girls at school that I could talk to. We would sit on her bed and chatter for hours. She would smoke insane amounts of cigarettes. I would drink insane amounts of coffee. In the background a scratchy Lou Reed song called "Waltzing Mathilda" might be playing; a song which for some reason we couldn't get enough of. It was about a party interrupted by the inconvenient discovery of a female corpse.