A moving story of love, friendship, grief, healing, and the magical bond between a woman and her dog. When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has left behind. Her own battle against grief is intensified by the mute suffering of the dog, a huge Great Dane traumatized by the inexplicable disappearance of its master, and by the threat of eviction: dogs are prohibited in her apartment building. While others worry that grief has made her a victim of magical thinking, the woman refuses to be separated from the dog except for brief periods of time. Isolated from the rest of the world, increasingly obsessed with the dog's care, determined to read its mind and fathom its heart, she comes dangerously close to unraveling. But while troubles abound, rich and surprising rewards lie in store for both of them. Elegiac and searching, The Friend is both a meditation on loss and a celebration of human-canine devotion.
Your whole house smells of dog, says someone who comes to visit. I say I'll take care of it. Which I do by never inviting that person to visit again.
I think also it's just a matter of the Renate Adleresque tone not doing it for me. It doesn't when Renate Adler does, either.
From that description, it should be clear that these fictional elements provide no real dramatic tension and barely amount to much more than an extended short story. To compensate, Sigrid Nunez pads the rest of the book with considerable philosophical musings on sundry topics such as: the sexual tension between professors and students, the psychology and physiology of how pets grieve, famous authors ruminating on the debilitating and lonely act of writing, an examination of the human trafficking business, how the relationship between writers and readers has changed in the age of technology, the therapeutic nature of reading to animals, and so forth.
Some of these digressions were stimulating and engaging, particularly when Nunez flexed her almost encyclopedic command of literary references. Still, I came away from The Friend with a vaguely cynical view of the author’s sense of what it means to grieve. I did not understand many of the main character’s actions in the aftermath of the suicide, especially in her relationship with the dog. Further, the lengthy chapter near the end in which she imagines an alternative ending for her mentor’s death seemed like a false note, as well as a device deployed much more effectively elsewhere (e.g., Ian McEwan’s Atonement). So, while generally well crafted, this book was not an especially enjoyable or memorable experience for me.
The writing is elegant, spare, recalling literary entities who were also focused on their pets, finding in them many times more humanity in them than in their regular relationships. The writing is non linear, free flowing thoughts, wandering from their past relationship, to the literary endeavors undertaken by them both, and on to other subjects. Intropsective and melancholy, thoughts turn and twist, the way memories do, and always in the background the ties people have found and loved in their animals. Trivia and insights into animals, their empathy, their understanding, keen sense of smell, the bond forged between them and their human counterparts.
A shorter novel, but I found it fascinating, the way it is pulled together worked for this exceptionally well. We could travel with this young woman as she attempts to come to terms with something unexpected and devastating in her own life. The words, sentences, nothing wasted, we are n her mind, her free flowing thoughts. Her own relationship with the Great Dane and what it comes to mean. This will probably be a book that won't appeal to all, but it did appeal to me. I sometimes sink into these unconventional types of fiction,just float along with the words, and ponder what I'm reading.
ARC from Edelweiss.
This novel is about a woman--early middle aged? Or maybe 30ish? Single, writing teacher, who lives in a small (NY?) apartment. Her former teacher, mentor, and very good friend has committed suicide. His third wife gifts the unnamed narrator his dog. A great dane with the beginnings of arthritis.
This book is her ruminations on the dog, her grief, the grief of dogs, writings about dogs, writings about the grief of dogs, her worry about the dog, life with the dog, and why her friend did this thing to his friends and family.
Somewhat stream of consciousness, I just didn't find it very interesting. Just a total miss for me. I can see how someone else might like it. I am also not a dog person.
I did learn about the book "My Dog Tulip", which I will NOT be reading based on the narrator's description of it.
dogs and has known grief. I loved this book.
But I need someone to explain chapter 11 to me--maybe I get it. Is this how the narrator wanted the book to go? It confused me because I thought everything I just read wasn't true--but then chapter 12 makes it seem like this was just a little interlude. Was it necessary for this to be such a long chapter?
Anyway--it's worth a read.
Really all of that is a bonus, though, on top of the emotional core to the novel: the story of a woman and her dog, both mourning a lost friend. The dog's mourning is without judgment (or understanding), while the woman's is complicated by resentments and an understanding that loving someone doesn't mean erasing their flaws or the harm they do.
I really loved this. I'm going to be thinking back on it a lot.
Told in a series of brief paragraphs and vignettes, The Friend never really got underway for me. Its a slender novel, and the brief segments each seemed unconnected with the ones on either side. There's a section where the novel reflects on its own construction that was interesting, but ultimately not enough to redeem the rest of it.
What I found was this criticism of the NBA: "...the fiction award has become a Newbery Medal for adults: Good for you whether you like it or not. ...the impression has arisen that already-successful titles are automatically sidelined in favor of books that the judges feel deserve an extra boost of attention. the nominated books [often] exhibit qualities – a poetic prose style, elliptical or fragmented storytelling – that either don't matter much to nonprofessional readers, or even put them off....the NBA has become irrelevant to average readers and of more interest to professional writers..."the National Book Awards [are] known for this sort of thing. They're awards for insiders."
YES! "The Friend" is a perfect example of "Awards For Insiders". A chance for them to form a circle and--um--pat each other on the back.
The book is self-absorbed navel-gazing from beginning to --- whatever you would call the final page. So unbearably pretentious!
I'm smacking myself on the forehead repeatedly, and mumbling, "Why? Why? WHY didn't I listen to my instincts and ditch this thing earlier?" I combined (1) the hope that maybe it would have something to do with the dog (and not just her egocentric musings about how the dog's presence affects HER), with (2) the book award winner stamp on the cover--surely eventually this would become worth reading, wouldn't it?? Spoiler Alert: No. Thank goodness for the public library!
When “The Friend” came out in February, Nunez and her publisher, Riverhead, weren’t expecting a best-seller. Riverhead ordered a first printing of 10,500.
Still, Sarah McGrath, Nunez’s editor, hoped the book would resonate with animal lovers and draw a bigger audience than her earlier books.
“She’s writing about grief and loss and death and relationships, these are serious earnest subjects, yet she’s doing it with humor, and that’s such a hard thing to achieve,” she said. “For a book that is so wise and rich with literary allusions, it’s actually very accessible, and I did think this was a book that could help her find her readers.”
Lovely writing, lovely dog.
The book doesn’t wax philosophically, but it briefly touches on points of view, on facts, that keeps your mind active. Much is written about the written word, what it means to the writer, the reader, and the society in general. Toward the book’s end, a new fold of the story comes into play that changes things, but does it really?
Since I recently rediscovered the significance of “the perfect place to die,” the Aokigahara Forest at the foot of Mount Fuji, I continually come across it. With this book centered on a suicide, and the author loving to drop knowledge on her readers, it was bound to come up in this novel, as it surely did.
And, while I’m normally not that taken with stories that feature animals, the role played by this one was much bigger than simply being a massive beast in a 500 square foot apartment. The dog is central to the story line, and is a well-developed character. The scope of the book is a most thoughtful pondering of life, grieving, writing, relationships, and more. It handles each intelligently, in a crisp, clear, and concise style that constantly impressed this reader.