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'Friendship': A Startlingly Nice Novel By A Tough-Girl Blogger


Our book critic, Maureen Corrigan, has a review of the new novel "Friendship" by Emily Gould who made her name in the blogosphere. A recent profile in the New York Times Sunday style section described Gould as a forerunner to Lena Dunham and other confessional female bloggers, writers and filmmakers or whom over-sharing has become an art form.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: The most startling thing about Emily Gold's debut literary novel is how nice it is. Even its title, "Friendship," is meant to be taken at face value. The novel's sincere tone takes a while to get accustomed to because of Gould's tough girl track record. She first made a name for herself in her 20s in her own Emily Magazine, as a bare-all confessional blogger. She also worked as a reporter and editor for the celebrities snark site, Gawker. But as Gould chronicles in this semi-autobiographical novel, one's 30s are about buckling down and figuring out what's really important in life. In this case, the answer is female friendship. Men are louses. Fancy college degrees may get you nowhere. Careers are fickle. But girlfriends are for ever. Cue the Bette Midler music. I think I feel a Hallmark moment coming on. "Friendship" is one of those otherwise ephemeral novels that's worth picking up not for its somewhat sentimental message or plot, but for its color commentary. Gould's strengths as a novelist are the same strengths that distinguished her as a blogger - the sharp and often funny social observations, the inspired wordplay. Her basic tale revolves around two friends in their early 30s who've stayed too long at the singles fair that is New York City. Bev is a gentle Midwesterner who dropped out of her MFA program and is stuck working dead-end temp jobs to pay back her mounting student loan debt. She's long played sidekick to sparkling go-getter Amy. After a notorious stint reporting for a celebrity blog site that almost made her famous, Amy now works at a Jewish blog site called Yidster. And she has an artist boyfriend whose giant oil paintings of Cuisinarts have earned him ridicule on a cultural website called Fartist. When Bev gets pregnant after a boozy hookup, and Amy leaves her job and her boyfriend, the power dynamics shift, and their relationship crumbles. Gould nails that 30-something moment in many a single, college educated woman's life where she realizes she's stuck in the anticipation mode of early youth - and that, sans partner, kids and/or soaring career. She doesn't have a clear sense of how to move forward. Here's how Gould describes a woman named Sally who's a peripheral buddy to Bev and Amy, recalling her own magical thinking about growing up. (Reading) Sally had assumed that stayed-adulthood came for everyone eventually, without exception or much effort, like a bus, if you just waited around for it long enough. Amy's version of waiting for that bus involves believing that her big career comeback is eternally just around the corner. She has so little attachment to the online writings she produces it for Yidster that another character tells her she essentially has one night stands with her work. Amy eventually quits in a huff and walks off into a stalled economy and a lesson in humility.

As I said, "Friendship" has its moments. But its simple vision of female friendship as the dependable consolation prize when nothing else in life works out feels more high school than feminist. Then again, in a summer where Katie Couric announces her marriage to financier John Molner by tweeting, so excited to make my debut as Mrs. John Molner, maybe even the mildest expression of Gen-X feminist solidarity is something to cheer on, rather than criticize.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed Emily Gould's debut novel, "Friendship." Coming up, rock critic Ken Tucker reviews the new album by Timothy Showalter who records under the name Strand of Oaks. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Maureen Corrigan, book critic for NPR's Fresh Air, is The Nicky and Jamie Grant Distinguished Professor of the Practice in Literary Criticism at Georgetown University. She is an associate editor of and contributor to Mystery and Suspense Writers (Scribner) and the winner of the 1999 Edgar Award for Criticism, presented by the Mystery Writers of America. In 2019, Corrigan was awarded the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing by the National Book Critics Circle.
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