With her critically acclaimed debut novel, Still Life with Husband, Lauren Fox established herself as a wise and achingly funny chronicler of domestic life and was hailed as "a delightful new voice in American fiction, a voice that instantly recalls the wry, knowing prose of Lorrie Moore" (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times). Fox's new novel glitters with these pleasures--fearless wordplay, humor, and nuance--and asks us the question at the heart of every friendship: What would you give up for a friend's happiness?
For Willa Jacobs, seeing her best friend, Jane Weston, is like looking in a mirror on a really good day. Strangers assume they are sisters, a comparison Willa secretly enjoys. They share an apartment, clothing, and groceries, eking out rent with part-time jobs. Willa writes advertising copy, dreaming up inspirational messages for tea bags ("The path to enlightenment is steep" and "Oolong! Farewell!"), while Jane cleans houses and writes poetry about it, rhyming "dust" with "lust," and "clog of hair" with "fog of despair." Together Willa and Jane are a fortress of private jokes and shared opinions, with a friendship so close there's hardly room for anyone else. But when Ben, Willa's oldest friend, reappears and falls in love with Jane, Willa wonders: Can she let her two best friends find happiness with each other if it means leaving her behind?
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February 14, 2012
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Excerpt from Friends Like Us by Lauren Fox
Jane sweeps a scattering of crumbs into a neat little pile. "You are quite a slob," she says as she pushes the broom across the floor with a rhythmic swish-�swish. "And so lucky to have me to clean up your messes!"
"I know," I say, watching an ant crawl across the windowsill. "But if I weren't so messy, you wouldn't get the satisfaction of cleaning the apartment. I do it for you. For your OCD."
"Thank you, sweetie," she says. She props the broom against the wall and drops to her hands and knees, sponging up invisible spills, scrubbing our crummy kitchen linoleum into gleaming submission.
"Don't get me wrong," I continue, lifting my feet so Jane can clean under them. "I appreciate it. But it's not a favor if you can't not do it."
"I can stop anytime I want to!"
"You missed a spot," I say, pointing with my left big toe to a nonexistent smudge on the floor; in response, she squeezes a dribble from the wet sponge over my bare foot.
"I do appreciate your attention to detail," she says, dabbing my foot.
"Well, here's how you can repay me," I say as Jane squirts a viscous blob of liquid cleanser onto the sponge. "You can come with me tonight."
"And you know, my pretty, that there is no chance of that."
"Why not? A, you don't have to talk to anyone if you don't want to, and B, if you do, people will find you charming and interesting." Sometimes I think it's helpful to speak in outline form.
"Willa," Jane says, attacking the tabletop. "I will not go to your high school reunion. A, I'm not your boyfriend, and B, I didn't go to high school with you."
Excitement is the cousin of dread. Three weeks ago I agreed to attend my eight-�year high school reunion. Eight-�year reunion, yes: there it was, in my in-�box, an Evite to a list of two hundred twenty-�eight vaguely familiar names from one vaguely familiar name: Shelby Stigmeyer, who, the invitation explained, was supposed to get married tonight, but her fianc� called off the engagement, and Shelby couldn't get the deposit back on the room. Aw, I thought. Awwww. And in this fleeting, unfortunate moment of sympathy, I added my name to the "yes" column.
I've spent the last twenty-�one days regretting it. The only thing I liked about high school was leaving it--�that and my best friend, Ben Kern, nickname "Pop," but he's just another reason I should have declined that invitation. I don't want to go tonight, and I desperately don't want to go alone. Jane is, in fact, the closest thing I have to a boyfriend, and with her, what promises to be an excruciating rerun of four years of shyness could be, instead, a party. But I know her well enough to know that she's easily moved, right up until the moment she's not. "Fine," I say, defeated. I deliberately let a shower of crumbs from my granola bar fall onto the table.
She reaches around me with her sponge, unimpressed, then kisses me on the head. "It will be fine. It's only one night. You can leave early." She dabs at the last of the crumbs, her thin arm close to my face, her skin warm and bleachy. "Take good notes. I'll wait up."
The trip that should take twenty minutes takes me a good forty, as I deliberately navigate the side streets and drive ten miles below the speed limit, incurring the wrath of the old man in the boat-�sized silver Chrysler behind me. I stop for gas, even though the tank is three-�quarters full. Finally I have no choice but to pull into the restaurant parking lot and face the reunion head-�on.
Inside the Hampton House's private party room, the bass-�heavy thump of an eight-�year-�old Aerosmith power ballad bores into my skull. I squint against the swirl of Christmas lights and the confusion of faces, their features blurred, take a shallow breath through my mouth to try to minimize the smell of heavily perfumed and aftershaved bodies. Women who haven't seen each other in ages squeal with delight; men pound each other on the back like friendly apes. I'm pressed against the back wall when I spot him. I push my head forward, suddenly unsure.