Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: suicide, death, grief, sex, animal death.
Goodreads Rating: 2.5 Stars
Not Your Mama’s Book Club pick for September was The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, and I think all of us were looking forward to a short, thoughtful novel about the relationship between a woman and a dog, forced together after a friend’s death. However, as our conversation unfolded during our club meeting, we all pretty much agreed that this book isn’t the feel good novel we were expecting.
Listening to the 8 hour audiobook, Nunez jumps into the story of how the main character (who mostly talks in first person narrative) is experiencing the loss of her author friend after he commits suicide. She explains and reflects on their complicated relationship, from working together to sleeping together and then just defining themselves as friends, even as he’s gone through multiple marriages and divorced. This, she figures, is why he has decided to will his dog, Apollo, to her. However, having a dog in a small apartment that doesn’t even allow dogs proves to be it’s own challenge. She defies her landlord and they grieve, grow, and age together.
The writing from Nunez is very reflective, aiding the inner dialogue of the main character as she reflects on suicide. I found myself interested in her observations and opinions on the loss of her friend and the method of which he took his life. Unfortunately, I’m familiar with that sort of grief, and so I thought these pieces were rather well spoken, albeit somewhat conceited, as the main character is a writer who seems fascinated by her own ability to turn a phrase. Also at this point of the novel, the author does a lot of tricky comparisons with the kinship between the dog and his owner, and the friendship between herself and the author. At times, this gets confusing because similar emotions are shared between the two different relationships, and then are transferred to the new relationship between herself and the dog. I thought this was clever because it utilized the title, making it have multiple meanings
However, the further I read (listened), the more disappointed I became. What I thought was going to be a beautiful narrative on canine companionship and grief turns into something…else. There’s a lot of discussion on odd relationships (like intimate) with canines and over zealous books about them, and a discussion about the author’s writing techniques that completely destroyed the illusion set by the plot so far. I don’t think I’m just not deep enough or not “getting it” either- I’m an animal person who recently lost a loved one with a serious love for the written word… this book is practically written for people like me. However, it’s as if Nunez wanted to make a mockery of her readers. If that was the goal, then she got me there.
If I had a copy of The Friend in my hands at the end of the novel, I would have wanted to chuck it across the floor.
*Spoiler Alert* Also yes, the dog dies. Of old age and maybe grief, and the author doesn’t exactly state the death, but still… he dies.
Published: February 5, 2019
Publisher: Riverhead Books
TL/DR: The Friend by Sigrid Nunez is a novel about canine companionship, grief, suicide, and the author’s thoughts on how they interconnect within the novel.
Read it? No. I mean, if you want to, I won’t stop you. I just think it’s not going to be the book you’d expect from it’s description- or even from the beginning half to the end.
Recommend it? Nope.
Buy it? NOPE.
If you liked this novel or review, check out these similar reads:
- War Dogs by Rebecca Frankel
- The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein