In Front-to-Backlist, we take one or more present-day titles (sometimes bestsellers/buzzed about, sometimes not) and tell you why they’re terrific — then share another book from the past that you might enjoy too.
There are so many angles to friendship, which really means there are so many sharp places on which to injure one’s self. Good friendships, from the kind that are purely fun and superficial to the deep, lifelong ones, feed us and help us to grow, while bad friendships, including nasty frenemies and toxic hangers on, can lead us to the brink of madness.
Emily Gould’s new novel, Friendship, talks about the stuff of modern friendships. Thirty-something besties Bev and Amy have seen each other through some tough times, but are now in such different places they might not recognize each other’s Instagram feeds. Referring to a social-media site is deliberate, of course; much of former blogger (Gawker, etc.) Gould’s life has been lived out loud online. While this book shows her still yakking (there are many thinly veiled references to her real life, such as naming the cat in the book “Waffles,” which is pretty similar to her actual cat, Raffles), it also provides moments akin to those early-evening glimpses into other people’s apartments: The bit of life you see is small but intriguing.
The good news is that Amy’s life is small but intriguing. That’s the bad news, too. We don’t see much of Bev, and the story seems less tied to its title than it should be.
Of course, good and bad can be wrapped up in the same friendship. Most women know that this is far more common than we’d like, It’s also the subject of one of this year’s most affecting debut novels, Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro.
Fierro’s book deals with parents of small children; it centers around a late-summer beach weekend planned by Nicole as a fun getaway for her Brooklyn set of moms, dads, and preschoolers. In reality, Nicole suffers from crippling anxiety and has convinced herself that there’s going to be a terrorist attack over Labor Day, hence the weekend away. Her comrades all have worries of their own, too: One knows she’s about to be found out in a crime, another can’t convince a spouse to go for a second child, and still another has had it with the city and is desperate to move to the suburbs.
But it’s Tiffany, the mom who may have the most to lose, who loses it in spectacular fashion during the trip, changing the nature of everyone’s friendships and forcing them all to confront the demons they’ve toted along with sippy cups and water wings.
Cutting Teeth reminded me how easily one person’s actions can dissolve an entire group, which brings me to this week’s backlist title: The great Wallace Stegner’s last novel, 1987’s Crossing to Safety. Stegner won the Pulitzer for Angle of Repose and the National Book Award for The Spectator Bird, but I love Crossing to Safety above those two for its intimate depiction of class differences eroding a decades-long bond between two married couples.
I hadn’t remembered this when I chose this week’s books (although perhaps Fierro did, in an elegant homage?), but Crossing to Safety also centers around a summer place as a meeting spot for long-buried tensions. When Larry and Sally Morgan return to Battell Pond, Sid Lang’s family camp, to help his widow Charity orchestrate her own death, Larry confronts the wrongs that all of them have both created and ignored, and while the result is different from the havoc Tiffany wreaks in Cutting Teeth, it’s no less devastating.
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