Saturday, August 16, 2014

Friendship by Emily Gould (2014)

Emily Gould is Internet famous and she had a famous Internet meltdown. The thing about being Internet famous, though, is that while one may be ridiculously well known in one's own corner of the world wide web, the Internet is so niche that only the others who hang out where you do will know who you are (a case in point is the Yarn Harlot, a woman so Internet famous that her simply knitting a pattern can cause its popularity to sky rocket and whole colourways of yarn to sell out but who is virtually unknown outside the knitting blogosphere). Obviously Emily Gould and I reside in different parts of the Internet because it is only recently that I discovered who she is - a blogger who wrote for Gawker who got given a lot of money to write a book which then bombed and the stories within it caused rifts with her friends and family.

This knowledge about Emily Gould is fundamental to an understanding of her first adult novel, Friendship. In this book, Amy is an Internet famous person who had a famous Internet meltdown. She is now the editor of Yidster, a blog with "a modern Jewish focus" and a small but loyal readership, which is slowly and steadily losing money. Amy hates her job but it only involves about 15 minutes of actual work per day and she is too lethargic to do anything about finding a better job. Beth is a midwestern transplant who is back in New York after disastrously moving to Wisconsin for love. She is paying back an immense student loan debt from the one year she completed of a two-year MFA program. She is temping and struggling to make ends meet. This book chronicles the ups and downs of their friendship after Beth becomes pregnant after one night stand and Amy is forced to address the realities of her life.

Emily Gould is a very good writer. I read this book in one sitting, while my cat basked in the sun next to me. This is super rare for me to do and an indication of how easy the book is to read. I think the book also really captures well the dynamics of intense female friendship. However, these characters are incredibly and profoundly irritating. They make really stupid decisions really often, they seem completely unable to inhabit a financial and practical reality and they act with a truly breathtaking talent for self-destruction. The plot is frankly a bit stupid, particularly Beth's decision to scrimp on the $40 the morning-after pill would cost and the entire Sally plotline.

My cat, keeping me company and lying in the sun

For me, this book feels a lot like the TV show Girls (a comparison that I am sure Emily Gould quite consciously cultivated). It focuses on a bunch of women who feel entitled to a life they can't afford and bewildered that life isn't turning out like they thought it would. These women are obnoxious, bratty and, for anyone with actual real problems, incredibly frustrating. But they are also entertaining and funny and very watchable. Emily Gould's online person is ridiculously self-involved and self-centred and the characters she created are also but she is a good writer. Your ability to enjoy this book will completely depend on your tolerance of Gould and her characters unrelenting self-absorption. Three stars.

One more thing: paying $60,000 for an MFA will not make you a writer. It is only through the act of writing that one becomes a writer. Invest that $60,000 in making sure you have the time and space to write rather than supporting the exploitative idea that an MFA is a thing of actual value.

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