Spoiler Alert: Most of the novel is summarized here to help aid the analysis of this review. That said this novel is impervious to spoilers and would still be enjoyable despite knowing the narrative. So read on or not with this in mind.
Most of what I know about Emily Gould I have learned from Twitter over the past few months. I first discovered her in a list of authors known for their engagement with social media on a literary Buzzfeed website whose name eludes me. According to interviews and reviews she has a history of angering people with what she says, but that’s none of my business. I loved this novel. The primary goal in Friendship is to guide us through the precarious relationship of its protagonists Amy and Bev, and along the way they meet a character named Sally who complicates the relationship.
The plot of the novel centers around Bev and Amy’s relationship which started when Bev offered herself for friendship with Amy at their workplace. They become official best friends on the roof of Amy’s new apartment. Between them there is something of a cosmic see-saw. As the novel begins Amy is a well-paid blogger who spends a maximum hour per day on work-related objectives then browses the Internet for the remaining day. Bev is a graduate school drop-out who is trying to pay rent with temp work. By the end of the novel their positions have swapped on the see-saw and it seems that Amy is the destitute one while Bev flourishes with a series of successes.
The essential character difference of pride is the impetus that forces change. Amy has a lot of it. She is weary of accepting help or charity from people and when she has an opportunity as in the video shoot for her company, Yidster, she quits because it is “degrading.” Her Romantic intellectualism does not include making viral videos for the masses. Bev is flawed as well though it seems she’ll take charity from anyone whether it is sex from a guy she doesn’t really like or money from a lonely housewife and wannabe mother. Amy gives good advice about sex with strangers and accepting money from strangers. She proves right when the ass hole who knocked her up refuses to acknowledge he impregnated someone. Bev must realize here that, as the David Foster Wallace epigraph points out, her decisions really do matter and she matters as a person. These decisions are having wide-reaching consequences affecting other people including the one to which she will give birth.
It should be obvious by now that Amy and Bev work as foils. The tactic is common because it works so well, as in this novel. Amy’s low point when she must move in with her parents would not be so low if her unsuccessful friend Bev was not finally becoming successful in her own right. Gould plays off this difference to show their changing relationship. When Bev gets pregnant an abortion is a foregone, easy conclusion for Amy. This displays Amy’s lack of empathy. She never really understands why Bev would keep it and sees it as a threat to her relationship with Bev. Bev however sees this as her chance to change and become someone new that has an affect on the next generation. We see Amy change so much from this self-centered character to someone who still has self-respect, but slowly begins to give up some control of her life (again see the DFW epigraph). Relative to Amy, Bev is a static character, despite gaining some self-respect of her own through the influence of having money and a baby but it is important to remember, lest we make the same mistake as Amy, that without Bev there is no Amy. The two work symbiotically to make this an interesting story that we keep coming back to. They complement and bring out the best in each other.
The inclusion of Sally and Jason highlight these complements by introducing conflict to the plot beyond the banal pregnancy question. Bev befriends Sally in exchange for her help with the baby. Amy cheats on her boyfriend with Jason in an attempt to feel less lonely since Sam, the boyfriend, is spending more time in the studio and will leave for Spain soon. This is also a reaction to Bev’s growing relationship with Sally and the excitement of a morally vague sexual relationship. While Jason is mostly just another dick of a male character, Sally has real interest and depth. She is representative of the rich Bohemian lifestyle which uses itself as an excuse to feel superior to the rest of society. I see her as a tragic character without sense of herself. Her romantic notions of NYC retrofit her mind to the maturity level of Bev and Amy. Through a divorce (Amy’s affair not the cause apparently) she believes she can get half of Jason’s money even though she never earned any of it and Jason still pays for the deposit on her new apartment because she has no income. These actions are contemptible but the tragedy is that she never sees her own potential to be successful and content without piggybacking on someone else’s wealth and success. The divorce is irrelevant and the romanticism is irrelevant. These are examples of the agency she has but refuses to seize for her own by continual reliance on Jason. We don’t ever find out if the divorce finishes and it is said that Jason believes it will not. Without this information we’re left with a purposeful sense disappointment in this character. I would say we can know however that she will not find the girl she used to be who stripped at night clubs for a living without ridding herself of Jason and his money.
This becomes ironic in light of Bev’s decision to allow Sally to be a financial godmother of sorts though with a less tragic conclusion than Sally’s. Amy despises the money Sally gives to Bev and resents Bev for taking it. Sally offers Amy a check in exchange for an end to her relationship with Jason and she replies, “You can’t always pay people to do what you want them to do! I mean sometimes you can, but why is it your default means of solving problems?” The obvious questions here are why Bev thinks taking money from a stranger is a good idea in the first place. Abortions are distasteful, sure. Amy makes the correct choice when she runs out of money. Return to the fatherland despite the indignity. Bev cannot face her Bible-thumping parents so she takes the money.
Thus the novel concludes with an apologetic email from Amy. She gave good advice, and I cannot think of this otherwise as another way in which Amy has learned humility. Bev will probably learn it once her financial godmother runs out of cash when she gets divorced and has no job, unless she stays with Jason for all the money. But this is what is so great about Friendship. The narrative lives far beyond the novel and gives us a number of issues to think about despite the happy conclusion of Bev and Amy’s reconciliation.