A memoir turned into fiction, with little plot
By Emily Gould
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 258 pp. $26
Emily Gould made a name for herself, and then some, as a blogger with a bite on Gawker, once the go-to site for office procrastination. She was a virtuoso of snark, with a specialty in targeting the more famous and successful. Gould also exhibited a pronounced gift for oversharing, a noted affliction of the selfie generation.
Six years ago, Gould famously posed lying on a bed for a New York Times Magazine cover, her arm a field of poppy tats, for her first-person essay "Blog-Post Confidential." Gould observed, "I understand that by writing here about how I revealed my intimate life online, I've now revealed even more about what happened during the period when I was most exposed."
Naturally, the article landed a book deal, the 2010 memoir And The Heart Says Whatever, which resulted in more sharing. As Vanity Fair noted of Gould, "Privacy, to her, was a distant and fogeyish concept."
Which brings us to Friendship, a novel of sorts. It's not clear Gould has a particularly interesting story to tell, or a subject other than herself. (This is a writwoman who named her blog "Emily Magazine" and her publishing enterprise Emily Books.) And that's too bad, because I admired her blogging and rooted for her success. Today, Gawker is a wan version of itself, a failed diversion compared to when Gould helped helm the ship.
Friendship is ostensibly the story of two great pals, Amy Schein (the Emily character) who works for a snarky website called Yidster, and Bev Tunney (a stand-in for Ruth Curry, Gould's best friend and partner in Emily Books). The duo are straight out of Brooklyn, the HBO Girls' version, self-thwarting and downwardly mobile gals with ambition yet not enough direction or patience to get there. The more you read lesser attempts to capture the borough of our moment, the more exceptional Girls' creator Lena Dunham appears, with her consistent gift for character, humor, pathos, and pacing that is so lacking here.
Gould possesses a talent for observation but not, alas, plot. What the reader gets is a list of insightful aperçus and fleeting scenes, memoir turned into fiction with a dash of story. Amy "somehow snagged a high-profile job at a locally prominent gossip blog mocking New York City's rich, powerful, corrupt, ridiculous elite." After mocking the wrong person, a friend of the owner, she is asked to post a retraction and apology, refuses, and is fired. "Amy also thought she'd stood for something important, when basically she had stood up for her right to be mean on the Internet." Gould might have been wiser to write more about the anxious assembly-line life of blogging and the collateral damage of Internet mischief, which is only a minor diversion here.
When Bev gets pregnant, she decides to have the baby, though she has no boyfriend, job, or money. Why this thoroughly progressive woman, particularly one who opts for casual sex, might reject abortion strains credulity while seeming extremely dated. Four decades after Roe v. Wade, Gillian Robespierre's winning movie Obvious Child about an abortion is viewed as singular and brave, while ostensibly modern, hip writers like Gould and Juno's Diablo Cody rely on unintended pregnancy as an unconvincing plot device.
Bev opposes abortion supposedly due to her religious upbringing, though there's no substantive demonstration of any convictions. (Amy prefers to believe in a "yoga teacher God.") It's sort of a disposable plot point. Bev isn't very sensible, and seems utterly ill-prepared for pregnancy or motherhood. Improbably, she decides to give the baby to a woman she barely knows (like Juno) and doesn't even ask (here, take my baby), seemingly an excuse for Gould to riff on the lifestyle of an older couple with hipster cred, actual savings, and a handsome home in the Hudson River Valley.
Friendship's most attractive quality is the tribute it pays to the title. Women's friendships are powerful acts of faith and sustenance. In this novel, romance pales compared to the unbridled affection of the two central characters.
The book ends, as it does for too many young adults, with a perpetually broke (financially and also morally) Amy moving back to her parents' home in the Maryland suburbs, then into a nearby studio apartment, and working as a manager at a Ben & Jerry's. She still seems stuck, though not in Brooklyn.
Amy volunteers, once, at a soup kitchen, producing an epiphany of sorts. "She wanted to feel that way every day. She wondered if it counted as being good if you did the good thing for purely selfish reasons."
The reader is back to the book's beginning, trying to grasp the meta implications of everyday acts where everything is analyzed to death until, finally, there's not much meaning at all.
Karen Heller is an Inquirer columnist.