The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

 

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez

The Friend is less a novel than an elegy on friendship, writing, and loss. Its narrator is a middle-aged intellectual—an aspiring and unnamed author who teaches creative writing classes. She is mourning the suicide of her former professor—the man who became her lifelong friend and mentor. Overcome with grief, she believes her own life has lost its purpose.

Unexpectedly, the writer’s third wife calls the narrator and asks to meet for lunch. Apparently, she has been bequeathed her mentor’s dog—an elderly Great Dane. She adopts him even though her New York apartment building does not allow dogs. In addition, she is a “cat person,” disliking the unquestioning devotion dogs bestow on their owners. She names him Apollo.

Apollo also is grieving. He is listless and periodically howls. Seasons pass, and Apollo and the narrator become inseparable. Indeed, she wonders if her intense feelings for Apollo are a compensation for the loss of her mentor. Quoting German poet, Rainer Rilke, the narrator describes her relationship with the canine—"the love that consists of two solitudes which border, protect, and greet each other.”

Nunez’s prose is highly evocative as she captures the loneliness of mourning and the solace derived from the works of great writers. She seamlessly weaves her literary references into the plot and they serve to enrich the narrative. As the reviewer in the journal, Kirkus, concludes:

In contemplating her current situation—the loss, the dog—the woman is oriented by art: not just Rilke but Virginia Woolf, J.M. Coetzee, …Joy Williams, Milan Kundera, … J. R. Ackerley. It is a lonely novel: rigorous and stark, so elegant—so dismissive of conventional notions of plot—it hardly feels like fiction. *

Another reviewer aptly called this work, “a novelist’s novel.” Ultimately, it is a literary exploration of the very essence that makes us human.

*Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2017

 
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