The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

I usually hate it when writers write novels about writing. It almost always feels insular and self-referential and airless. You have no real audience. You’re only writing for other people just like you, who would rather you didn’t, so they could take your place. But this book manages to mostly avoid that feeling for me.

There are three primary characters–two are writers and one is a dog. One writer kills himself, the other, his dear friend, addresses most of the book to him, and inherits his aging harlequin great dane. Dog and writer experience and explore grief–and writer writes, all the while meditating on what writing really means, what it’s for, and how so many who wish to do it drastically miss the point. It is at times quite funny (of course I’d love a book that revolves around a suicide but still makes me laugh, and there’s a dog).

There were portions where I came close to rolling my eyes: the descriptions of life as a teacher of creative writing, sketches of the hopeless students who are convinced of their talent, standard-issue university politics, all shaded slightly toward satire. But perhaps because there is so much left off the page, I think she gets away with it. The relationship (between the humans) is never fully explained, but everything we do hear feels coherent; I was confident that it had all been thought through, that Nunez knew the whole of it even if her narrator did not explain it all.

And the dog. Oh, the dog.

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