By Emily Gould. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 272 pp, hardcover
What does it mean to be an adult? It’s a tough question, as the trappings of adulthood (marriage? kids? not living in your parents’ basement?) become less defined, and people compensate by declaring whatever decade they reluctantly inhabit “the new 20”.
It’s also the question at the heart of Emily Gould’s first novel, Friendship, which follows two of New York’s sad young literary women from their friendship’s rosy beginnings in their 20s to their beyond-the-pale 30s.
Gould, a former Gawker editor and shameless literary scenester (her relationship with Keith Gessen was spicy gossip fodder in 2008), presumably knows where her two wittily aimless protagonists are coming from. She’s like the Lena Dunham of the 30-something set; one could imagine the characters from Girls (so young! so hopeful!) being, in five years, just like Friendship’s protagonists: the portrait of defeated youthful idealism.
Amy boredly GChats the day away while spinning out viral content for Yidster (“the third-most-popular online destination for cultural coverage with a modern Jewish angle”), while Bev, a grad-school dropout, listlessly drifts from temp job to temp job.
This isn’t where either wanted to be at the expectation-laden age of 30: Amy is a formerly Internet-famous writer whose winsome looks and early successes have left her spoiled, entitled, and more than a little immature, while plainer Bev left her publishing job to pursue a wannabe lawyer boyfriend to Madison, only to endure a spirit-annihilating breakup.
At the periphery of the story is Sally, a married, 40-ish yuppie with a designer’s wet dream of a house in upstate New York, whose Kate Spade–approved lifestyle seems bespoke for Bev and Amy to covet. She’s not happy either. Nobody, it seems, is.
The status quo—and the delicate balance of Amy and Bev’s friendship—is abruptly derailed by Bev getting knocked up, leading Amy to suggest a solution that makes it clear she’s seen the movie Juno. But despite their youthfully dishevelled lifestyles, our heroines here are 30, not 16, and having an illegitimate child a fistful of years past the quarter-life crisis might sound a titch more legit.
Because it deals with themes of female friendship and romantic hardship, Friendship will likely make a few girl-mag “beach read” lists—not entirely unfairly, as it’s a breezy, light thing.
But it’s also a funny, uncomfortable book that lays bare all the anxieties of being a sort-of young woman trying to make it work in today’s world—a search for meaning that is, of course, very adult.