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Friends Like Us Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 14, 2012
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Guest Reviewer: Eleanor Brown on Friends Like Us by Lauren Fox
Eleanor Brown is the author of the New York Times and national bestselling debut novel, The Weird Sisters.
I am fascinated by this thing we call adulthood. When I was younger, I assumed that at some point in the hazy, distant future, I would magically transform into an adult, with all the confidence and organization I saw in the grown-ups around me.
Of course we all know now the process of becoming an adult is complex—equally joyous and painful. Years or decades in, we find ourselves still fumbling around in one way or another, doing the best we can, and occasionally stumbling across a miracle.
Lauren Fox’s Friends Like Us powerfully illustrates these painful, joyful moments as we cross the tricky threshold of adulthood. Willa, the novel’s whip-smart and laugh-out-loud funny narrator, is a loyal and devoted daughter, sister, and friend, especially to her roommate, Jane. Willa and Jane’s friendship is giddily intimate—their drive to “establish and reestablish the specific degree of our astounding similarities” is a reminder of teenage friendships lost and a harbinger of the coming end of their protracted adolescence. They are overeducated and underemployed, and nearing the time in their lives when those things will become frustrating rather than charming. Willa’s only broken relationship is with her high-school best friend, Ben, so when she runs into him at a reunion, she is delighted to welcome him back into her life, and thrilled to connect her friendships with Jane and Ben into a circle.
I cringed and laughed sympathetically watching Willa, Jane, and Ben try to navigate their way through this new relationship, opening a door to adulthood that they are not all ready to go through. Someone, inevitably, must be left behind, someone must be left out, and all of them have to change, whether they want to or not.
Friends Like Us is funny most of the time, and devastating when it’s not. It is a novel about loyalty, identity, and lost chances. It is also about what happens to friendships as we grow up, and how we fight even the right changes in all the wrong ways. Lauren Fox is a smart, clever writer, with a heartbreakingly keen insight into human nature. Friends Like Us may possess a light exterior and an effervescent sense of humor, but beneath these easy pleasures lies a beautifully complicated and true heart.
“[A] poignant comedy. . . . That sprinkling of despair and humor is typical of Fox, who . . . established herself as a chronicler of contemporary marriage and adultery. She’s in love with language and can squeeze laughs out of the worst situations while depicting nuanced, complicated characters. Her prose is intelligent. . . . This novel is ultimately about trust, betrayal and forgiveness. Fox makes you care about Willa and everyone else in Friends Like Us long after you’ve finished.” —Lisa Page, The Washington Post
“[Fox] infuses her writing with a clever, unforced humor. . . . As I finished Friends Like Us I did not despair, but reminisced about that bittersweet time of life that Fox captures perfectly with a writing style that rings with the familiarity of a long-lost friend.” —Meganne Fabrega, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Creative characters give Fox the opportunity for playful narration, puns and clever dialogue. Willa especially can be counted on for comedy, whether she is being introduced to someone’s fiancé called Rich (‘I’m not sure whether she’s telling us his name or describing him’) or trying to remember the name of a vegetarian restaurant (was it ‘Tempeh Tantrum,’ ‘Soy to the World’ or ‘Gluten-berg Bible’?). Willa’s multifarious humor is well matched by Jane’s quieter presence. But their tidy friendship is interrupted by the return of Willa’s best friend from high school, Ben. . . . Fox proves herself here, as in her first book, attracted to the crumbling, collapsing character of friendships as well as romances.” —Casey N. Cep, San Francisco Chronicle
"A funny, astute examination of the fragility of friendship.” —Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly
“The book is funny, breezing along as it nails its Gen-Y characters . . . It’s a strikingly wise exploration of the bonds people forge and break. Fox delivers on plot, but it’s her insight, emotion, and eye for universal truths that make Friends Like Us memorable.” —Robin Micheli, People
“Love triangles are as old as love itself, so how to make a novel about the shaky geometry of romance feel fresh? Lauren Fox, in her second novel, succeeds admirably, partly because she places her twenty-something characters against a grim backdrop of economic uncertainty and the not-quite-healed wounds of parental failures. This is a snarky, punny group of friends . . . but in the end, what elevates this book above chick-lit status are its deeper insights.” —Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe
“As I read Lauren Fox’s new novel, I dog-eared pages with witty lines, or impressively bitter ones, or ones that made me laugh. Please forgive me, Alfred A. Knopf, for what I’ve done to your book. I hadn’t intended to make origami out of it. . . . I’ve sometimes marveled at the multilayered closeness of the friendships between some women I know, to the point of occasionally wondering why they would even need men around, except for the pesky sex thing. Fox has drawn a sharp portrait of such a female friendship, inscribing both the joys and the needs that maintain its bonds while also illuminating the countervailing forces that could send its partners flying apart.” —Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Lauren Fox’s heartbreaking second novel is about the intense bonds between women—and how they change when your friend dates your soulmate. It’s a perfect girly page-turner for cozy winter nights.” —Glamour
“In this charming novel from the critically acclaimed author of Still Life with Husband, 26-year-old Willa and her best friend Jane are inseparable—until Jane falls in love.” —People Style Watch
“Lauren Fox’s Friends Like Us captures, with delicacy and humor, the ambiguities of attraction in an ironic age.” —Vogue
“Two best friends in their 20s wrestle with love and jealousy in Lauren Fox's hilarious, heartbreaking novel.” —Marie Claire
“Fox’s funny and bittersweet new novel tackles the fragility of friendship . . . When Ben meets Jane and they start dating, a love triangle forms, with Willa serving as the essential, but confused third wheel. As Ben and Jane’s relationship becomes more serious, the attraction between Ben and Willa grows, and all three must cope with the consequences. Instead of making Willa’s story maudlin and clichéd, Fox (Still Life with Husband) steers her characters toward a surprisingly realistic and complex conclusion. A thoughtful, delicate book.” —Publishers Weekly
“Lauren Fox writes with verve and a keen understanding of human relationships. She also happens to be riotously funny. Friends Like Us is at once a hilarious page-turner and a wise meditation on friendship, marriage, and the ways in which our parents’ mistakes so often shape our lives.” —J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine
“Friends Like Us explores the connection between love and friendship—and the unspoken jealousy that can upend both. Fox delivers a punch (and a story I can't stop thinking about) with her surprising and deeply honest novel.” —Laura Dave, author of The First Husband
“Fox creates a character [in Willa] whose social awkwardness and desperation are charming. How can a reader not sympathize with a girl who can bemoan her third-wheel status with a reference to The Glass Menagerie? The relationships are realistically depicted, especially among the three friends, whose inside jokes become like a second language. The plot is pure Emily Giffin, but Fox tackles quarter-life angst with the honest of Ann Packer’s The Dive from Clausen’s Pier (2002). The hard emotional truths go down easily amid the smart, rapid-fire wit. A pure if heartbreaking pleasure.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Wounded, witty Willa is a remarkably complex creation. Moving, artfully written.” —Kirkus Reviews
“An honest look into the friendships and relationships we develop in early adulthood . . . Fox’s realistic take on the growing pains of young adulthood grips the reader to the final page. Anyone who has suffered the loss of a friendship will embrace this thoughtful novel.” —Library Journal
“Reading Friends Like Us is like finding an old photograph of yourself when you were in your twenties. You'll remember the too-small apartments, the odd jobs, and the (sometimes) questionable decisions you made in the name of love. By the end, Lauren Fox will have you laughing and crying and calling your best friend in the middle of the night. I know I called mine.” —Rebecca Rasmussen, author of The Bird Sisters
“Dazzlingly entertaining and utterly engaging, Friends Like Us draws an intimate sketch of need and loss, crosshatched by friendship and love. Willa is funny, fallible, and fierce as she navigates family's inexorable pull and the self's desire for individual orbit. Fox's gorgeous novel grapples with ordinary truths in an extraordinary way, and will leave you paying more attention to the people who matter to you most.” —Gwendolen Gross, author of The Orphan Sister
“Friends Like Us is smart, funny, and winning, but the thing that strikes me most about it is how honest it is. Lauren Fox perfectly captures the way best friends love each other, make each other laugh, and sometimes, at their worst moments, break each other’s hearts.” —Lauren Grodstein, author of A Friend of the Family
Top customer reviews
Back track to somewhere after their friendship is well established. Best friends, nearly sisters who are so in tune with each other you can't imagine what would have brought them to the situation they are today. Willa does not want to attend her high school reunion, but Jane encourages her to attend. Willa does and enter, Ben, her high school best friend. Ben, who was always there for Willa back then, but now an improved version.
Willa introduces Ben to Jane and the attraction between the two is instant. What develops next is Willa's confusion over where she fits into the equation with Jane and with Ben. Finally, it dawns on Willa that she is envious of her two best friends relationships.
What happens next is probably predicatable, including how it all ends.
The lovely part about Friends Like Us is the balance of depth and humor. It feels light enough to keep it moving at a lively pace, but the themes it embraces aren't light at all which made for a satisfying read. The relationships in this book are complicated, even as the characters seem clear and easy to relate to. I'm drawn to work that explores change and growth and difficult decisions, but I also appreciated the note of fun throughout this book, which is peppered with dry wit, clever descriptions, and a few wicked puns.
The artful depiction of the formation of a friendship I found particularly touching. It made the ultimate betrayals in the storyline all the more heartbreaking.
I highly recommend this novel. I'm already looking forward to her next one.