Advertisement for our book club, or, SIGRID NUNEZ: NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS
We have a book club. This month, we read The Friend by Sigrid Nunez.
Even though I’d bought the book several weeks earlier while on vacation in California, I left reading it until the last two days before the book club. Why? Well, this is how I am.
I had about ¾ of the book to read at a coffee shop on the day of the book club, before a barre class in Cobble Hill. Why? This is the persona I am trying to affectate to overcome my years of being a dirtbag who was susceptible to bad people situations. It’s going well! I finished the book, and had time left over to text my sister and develop an unrelated secret plan.
The barre class was so great. I won’t talk about it here because it is not the place or time but suffice to say, I love them.
I went to the Trader Joe’s in Cobble Hill to get book club snacks and only accidentally almost budged in line once. I don’t remember what I bought.
As I was walking home, not one but TWO members of book club texted me to ask if they could come over early!! I was so happy. I love people coming over early! The two people were Kara, who has been to every book club meeting, and Daisy, whose first book club meeting it would be.
I showered really fast when I got home and then opened my living room for the revelry. There aren't any working lamps in my living room so when I have people over I have to light candles and hope that people don’t mind existing in the semi darkness. (Update: I have since bought a lamp.)
I wouldn’t say that I ‘prepared’ a lot for this book club, but having just finished it that afternoon, at least the novel was fresh in my memory. I also knew that I wouldn’t have to do a lot of ‘preparing,’ because two of my book club compatriots, Kara and Bryan, had been passively sparring about the book in a group text (a three person group text, with the third person being me) for the past month or so. At first I thought that this sparring was because Kara disliked the book and Bryan liked it, but as it turned out, both had issues with the book and it was not until the book club itself that I would find out what they were.
Bryan was late to book club (this is not shade, just as I love it when people are early, I also love it when people are late, because it gives the early people a chance to shoot the shit and get acquainted,) which is inkeeping with my Plan for all of my friends to become friends with all of my other friends.
This is when, in real life, I told everyone that I’d be recording the book club because of a Criticism Incident with the March issue. This is when, in this discussion of the discussion, I tell you, dear reader, that my recording was lost in the Great iPhone Recordings Weren’t Working Snafu of March 2019. (I swear, it wasn’t just me, I read about this happening to s e v e r a l other people.)
Luckily for no one, my brain is a porous sieve, and I took zero care to remember what was happening during this joyous event because I assumed it would be preserved by technology. I was able to gleam a few scraps from everyone else’s, less porous sieve-like, brains, as well as looking over my copy of the book and thinking: did we talk about this? Maybe?
Before we started talking about the actual book we went around the room and said a story about a pet that we once had. About this, Book Club Vice Chair Kara Rota remembers: “Someone had a dog and it died and they got another dog and named it the same thing?!? Was that a memory that was shared? Something sad about a dog. Maybe a dad divorce /dog story?”
Perhaps my friends brains are as porous as my own.
Once the Club Proper began, we were treated almost immediately to a Classic Literary Discussion Trope: the questioning of the premise of the novel. We were talking about the incident that begins the novel (for the uninitiated, the death by suicide by a friend of the narrator, which results in her being asked to care for his Great Dane.) In the novel, the man’s widow tells the narrator that the deceased had said that he wanted the narrator to care for his dog, should anything happen to him.
Eli Valley, book club attendee, socialist comic artist, and friend of mine, and whom, according to Kara, “brought an IPA,” said, “what I was thinking is, do we even know if the dead writer wanted this friend to take the dog? His widow [his third wife] could have just made that up! We don’t know!”
Wow. True!!!!! (was the consensus of the room.) Not only did we ask, was the narrator reliable, were any of the other characters reliable as they spoke to the narrator? Wife #3 (as she was referred to in the novel, which also caused a stir amongst the members of book club,) was not a fan of the narrator, nor was she a fan of the dog, ergo: yeah, she could have made it up.
We spent a lot of time talking about the narrator’s clear repressed love for the dead friend, which, I will confess, I did not think about a lot while I was reading. Thus is the beauty of accruing friends who are smarter than you! (and having them over to talk about books.)
As Daisy remembers, we spent a while talking about the narrator’s assumptions about the three wives: that she was different from them as Not a Wife, that her relationship with the narrator was one of valued artistic camaraderie rather than that old rag, wifeship. The narrator had similar opinions about the young students of the dead friend that he seduced! In the words of Kara: “The book may as well have been called: ‘Sigrid Nunez: Not Like Other Girls.’”
The group agreed that it was eminently possible that the Academy (I’m assuming the National Book Award has an Academy) liked this book because of its *inside baseball* nature: like when they (the actual Academy) give an award to a movie that is ‘about movies,’ like...Birdman.
I am a person who normally loves *inside baseball* stuff about writing, because I love gossip and am insufferable, but the way it was done in this book was…not too much, per say...
My personal biggest gripe about it, but also about the book, was the narrator’s continued insistence on drawing lines between student writers and ‘real writers.’ Like, are we teens on Livejournal taking quizzes called ‘Are You a Real Writer?’ ‘18 Signs You’re a Writer for Real!’ Like, you’re a professor! (Both the author and her narrator.) What do you have to prove?
I think it bothered me partially because the narrator did have such interesting observations about … so much else! The book could have had a lot more of its strongest sections if so much space weren’t spent on disseminating who is and is not a writer.
Maybe this is how a lot of writers think. If so, I feel bad for them. It’s embarrassing.
This segued into a discussion over whether this was all intentional: “elitism as a cloak for internalized misogyny.” (Thanks Daisy.) Or, whether the author was just being elitist and sexist! Whom is to say!
My Recording that Didn’t Record (you know what I mean, this happened to so many people recently) said the recording *should have been* two hours long, so we obviously talked about a lot of other things. A shame that they were lost to the annals of time! (Or, not. It’s probably fine.)
The last thing we talked about is how we were all *shocked* and *dismayed* that the last line of the acknowledgments is “Thank you, Lorin Stein.” To be fair, the second to last sentence is “An excerpt of this book appeared in The Paris Review.” But like…...still. I didn’t remind this until Kara told me, and she also remembered that we discussed the possibility that it was deep satirical commentary. Which would be impressive. We did float the idea, but were not convinced either way.
I would like to take a moment of silence for friends who Had Thoughts about the book but could not attend book club: Michelle Lyn King, Nicholas Mancusi, and David Burr Gerrard. One day we will have book club on a date that all of us can be at!
And with that, here we are. Join our book club!