Two things will usually happen, post scriptum, when young women write, in detail, about their own lives: people will like them too much, because they identify or relate, or, people will hate them, because of basic resentments and irritation, or provoked by legitimate engagement and criticism blowtorched by sexism, jealousy, or disdain. (Very often, both feelings will be expressed at the same time in exchanges between writer and reader, when compliments turn suddenly vicious, like a knife being casually turned to the sharp side.)
So it went with Emily Gould. Briefly: in 2006, when she was 24, Gould was called up from the content-farm team of personal bloggers, and hired as an editor, gossip writer and confessionalist at Gawker during an incarnation of the site that was defined, so aught-ishly, by snark. At Gawker, Gould became Internet-famous and also sort-of famous-famous for being obnoxious, funny, true and mean, like Liz Phair said; she quit in 2007, but the real denouement of that job was a 2008 New York Times Magazine cover story that Gould wrote about her experience as a professional over-sharer, which was inclusive of panic attacks, various forms of public, online humiliation, and in-boxes full of e-mails from people who thought they knew her, that they saw her. Predictably, the Internet made sure that Gould got hers.
The release of Friendship, Gould’s second book and first novel, has been declared her resurrection (expansive profiles in ELLE and the New York Times were largely about the Emily Goulds of then and now), but the book – about Amy and Bev, two 30-year-old women (ostensibly writers, but not the kind who actually… write), their friend-love threatened by the realities of their lives, in particular the charming Amy’s post-internet-fame job anxiety and practical, grad-school drop-out Bev’s accidental pregnancy – seems to stand more as an expansion on and articulation of the themes that have already been occupying Gould, during and maybe before her tenure at Gawker: who is doing what, and for who and for how much; what work means, what New York means, what is success, whatever.
An unusual and interesting aspect of Gould’s style is how genuinely unguarded and unglossed she is, very often about her own mistakes and failings. Between her 2010 book of essays, And The Heart Says Whatever, and Friendship, Gould wrote a long and unforgiving essay about how she spent the $200,000 of her first book advance (spoiler: badly); got a day job; taught yoga; Instagrammed photos of her vegetable hauls; cooked food with other writers for a web series; and created an e-book club called Emily Books with her best friend, Ruth Curry. She has revealed herself, so to speak, to be less ambitious than she is curious about ambition, less specifically interested in money and success than interested in the relative value of money and success, and, most of all, of writing books.
Work – sustained creativity, the problems of receiving too much attention, too fast and too young, paycheques, temp gigs, what it all might add up to and protect from – is as much a theme of the book as friendship is. The novel has a disarmingly for-real sense of these kinds of women’s lives, and features high-def, immersive verisimilitude about roommates, instant messages, storage units, job applications, buses, shirts, drinks and, largely, money; these are, of course, also the quotidian but hugely meaningful circumstances that create, maintain and end friendships, especially between women, especially in cities. Proximal books like Choire Sicha’s Very Recent History (Sicha worked at Gawker with Gould) and Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be?, much of which was about Heti’s friendship with the artist Margaux Williamson, are less traditional in form than Gould’s coming-of-age novel, but they’re similarly and artfully read from experience.
When Amy has been selfish, Bev says “Call me, text me. Be curious about what’s going on with me, not just use me to unload all your bad feelings, like I’m your therapist. I need you to care about me, not resent me.” This devolves into an argument about who is jealous of whom, until Bev concedes “Maybe sometimes. But I’m definitely not right now. But that’s okay, right? We don’t need to feel mutually superior to each other. That’s not the point of friendship, Amy. I mean, maybe it is for you, but it’s not for me.” Adult female friendships act as load-bearing walls, but they’re also precarious: jealousy and judgments can rip them open in a day; errors in the careful balance sheet of neediness and interest in the other one’s day undo years of emotional work.
“Sharply observed” is a gross cliché, but Friendship is Gould seeing and understanding the small and mounting details of what women like her want, what they have to do to get it, and what they do to ruin everything. Gould’s first, best talent – probably forged during her initial 10,000 hours of blogging – is to see things as they are, like a craftsperson, like a writer of novels has to see them.
Kate Carraway is a frequent contributor to The Globe and Mail.