Friendship

( 1 )

Overview

A novel about two friends learning the difference between getting older and growing up

Bev Tunney and Amy Schein have been best friends for years; now, at thirty, they’re at a crossroads. Bev is a Midwestern striver still mourning a years-old romantic catastrophe. Amy is an East Coast princess whose luck and charm have too long allowed her to cruise through life. Bev is stuck in circumstances that would have barely passed for bohemian in her mid-twenties: temping, living ...

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Friendship

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Overview

A novel about two friends learning the difference between getting older and growing up

Bev Tunney and Amy Schein have been best friends for years; now, at thirty, they’re at a crossroads. Bev is a Midwestern striver still mourning a years-old romantic catastrophe. Amy is an East Coast princess whose luck and charm have too long allowed her to cruise through life. Bev is stuck in circumstances that would have barely passed for bohemian in her mid-twenties: temping, living with roommates, drowning in student-loan debt. Amy is still riding the tailwinds of her early success, but her habit of burning bridges is finally catching up to her. And now Bev is pregnant.

     As Bev and Amy are dragged, kicking and screaming, into real adulthood, they have to face the possibility that growing up might mean growing apart.

     Friendship, Emily Gould’s debut novel, traces the evolution of a friendship with humor and wry sympathy. Gould examines the relationship between two women who want to help each other but sometimes can’t help themselves; who want to make good decisions but sometimes fall prey to their own worst impulses; whose generous intentions are sometimes overwhelmed by petty concerns.

     This is a novel about the way we speak and live today; about the ways we disappoint and betray one another. At once a meditation on the modern meaning of maturity and a timeless portrait of the underexamined bond that exists between friends, this exacting and truthful novel is a revelation.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
03/10/2014
Gould’s debut novel follows Bev and Amy as they transition into their 30s and a kind of stilted adulthood. The book opens with Bev on her way to an interview at a temp agency—she has dropped out of grad school before completing her M.F.A. and is stuck in the kind of low-rent existence typical of recent grads. As the novel progresses, Bev finds out she’s pregnant following a one-night stand; meanwhile Amy’s life, which has been insufferably charmed to this point, likewise starts to fall apart. The girls are forced to reevaluate their places in the world and their friendship. Gould’s novel is admirably, readably realistic—she knows these girls and the world they live in (including the omnipresence of technology and the way that it pervades relationships). In places, however, the accuracy of Gould’s prose takes away from the book’s ambition and reach. The plot is least successful when it strives for revelatory connections, as when Sally, a wealthy wife struggling to conceive, is slid conveniently into the narrative like a lucky puzzle piece. Still, Gould nails the complex blend of love, loyalty, and resentment that binds female friends. It is worth reading for the richness of its details (at one point, Amy is overwhelmed by the desire to put an engaged coworker’s wedding ring in her mouth), and it offers new insight into the experience of young women. (July)
From the Publisher
Praise for Friendship:

“Friendship is superficially about youngish, self-involved writerly types, but it’s really about people who are trying to be good and finding it hard. This is a book about ethics—about the real, unglamorous daily battle that is not being a jerk. Friendship has that same magical universality-in-specificity that make us care about the local politics of Middlemarch or Clarissa Dalloway’s floral arrangements. In tiny brushstrokes, Gould captures the small weirdnesses of being alive, of sitting in an interview and being suddenly and unaccountably struck with a desire to bite through the rim of a teacup . . . The best part of the novel is Bev and Amy: their fights and pettinesses, sure, but mostly their love . . . Praising Gould for writing a genuine-seeming female friendship is almost insulting, like praising her for knowing how to use page numbers. But in a literary landscape where no one seems to be able to count, Gould has created the kind of friendship that is not shallow, silly or a plot sideline, but private, deep and more real than almost anything else. It’s enough to make your <3 sing.” —Annalisa Quinn, NPR

“A scintillating debut novel . . . No threat of veils here: just the biting, brilliant exploration of a modern female friendship.” —Megan Labrise, Kirkus Reviews

“Very funny . . . Gould is an expert at capturing some of those thoughts you don’t want to admit that you have . . . Friendship is full of moments you will recognize, sometimes joyfully and sometimes a little bit shamefully. It focuses entirely on Bev and Amy’s relationship; this is not a story about trying to meet a man; the men are present but are never the goal or the aspiration (Friendship passes the Bechdel test with flying colors). Gould’s narrative is unforgiving in an immensely refreshing way: an honest, witty, and sharply observed exploration of the confusion and the comfort of adult female friendship.” —Amanda Bullock, Everyday ebook

“Emily Gould’s new novel, Friendship, offers a vivid exploration of the missed connections and overwhelming isolation of modern urban life . . . Gould's willfully sparse prose often focuses on minutiae . . . Her novel is notably devoid of the melancholy images and flourishes more common to young fiction writers with literary aspirations. But this flat, unapologetically honest tone and fixation on the mundane are arguably what make Gould’s story unique and compulsively readable. Instead of serving up one weighty, overwrought scene after another, Gould constructs her world from exactly the same empty building blocks that make up plenty of lives today: ‘Wikipedia rabbit holes’ substitute for actual work; Twitter supplements real, face-to-face friendships; emoticons take the place of honest, direct expressions of feeling . . . Gould clearly has a knack for letting the absurdities of modern life speak for themselves . . . Friendship so knowingly and skillfully reveals the ways that a spoiled existence—spending recklessly while enduring leisurely but soul-sucking new media jobs and unnervingly detached relationships—add up to a particular form of hell. Gould details exactly how an overactive mind, with nowhere to land, runs wild in a rarefied vacuum.”  —Heather Havrilesky, The Los Angeles Times

“Friendship [is] a difficult and at times unpleasant look at the intense bonds women form during this tenuous period of life . . . Is a woman talking about herself, or, as is the case in Friendship, to each other, inherently dangerous? . . . Gould is, in her small way, reinventing the way things are done and what stories are told, and for some reason this reads as either hazardous or dismissible for those comfortable with the status quo . . . [Friendship] is a slim novel about the close relationship between publishing house coworkers turned "life partners," Bev Tunney and Amy Schein, two women struggling through the trials of an unforgiving New York publishing scene . . . Their relationship is penned with the same care and attention writers usually reserve for romantic love, the two bonded together with as much codependence as compassion. Friendship is rife with the anxieties that exist on the precipice of female adulthood, with the pair popping klonopins, downing cocktails and vomiting in public, wondering where the careers and the men that they were promised are as they navigate the myriad messes they’ve found themselves in . . . The narrative focus is entirely on these two flawed women and the shifting dynamic between them—men becoming mere accessories to their dramas and desires, often proving themselves selfishly incapable of handling life’s responsibilities and promptly fading out of view. Building realistic and robust female characters of this age bracket is a rarity, and in reading Friendship one is struck by how . . . innovative this simple story is. And despite how insufferable these women can be . . . you grow to be glad they’ve been put to the page, if only because it feels like they’ve never been allowed to be there before.” —Stacey May Fowles, The National Post (Canada)

“There is a degree to which Friendship is, on Gould’s part, a revolutionary act, a reclaiming of the right to write something impervious to inflammatory vitriol . . . There is genuine tenderness and complication between Bev and Amy, and the novel’s best moments occur when the pair are allowed to just sit and chat about their imperfect starter lives. ‘Think of a child in my apartment that I share with my disgusting roommates!’ Bev says, pondering her options, post-pregnancy-test. ‘It’s all one big exposed, chewable wire. My baby would grow up eating roaches straight off the floor.’ Amy’s encouraging response: ‘Well, I’m sure plenty of babies do.’ . . . For much of the novel, you wish Amy would just get back to writing already — set aside the petty trappings of her aimless online life and participate in the actual world. (Go analog, honey, one thinks. Hell, go outside.) Then you realize you’re holding Emily Gould’s novel in your hands—a tangible object, real live printed matter—and things suddenly seem as if they’re looking up.” —Katie Arnold-Ratliff, The New York Times Book Review

“As Gould exposes [Amy and Bev’s] messiness—their fights, mortifying Gchat convos, acts of self-sabotage — she almost dares you to judge them. But the specificity of their struggles (peanut butter soup for dinner, anyone?) and Gould’s hyperaware voice lend the story of their friendship poignance and shades of relatability. A-” —Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly

“Because it deals with themes of female friendship and romantic hardship, Friendship will likely make a few girl-mag "beach read" lists—not entirely unfairly, as it’s a breezy, light thing. But it’s also a funny, uncomfortable book that lays bare all the anxieties of being a sort-of young woman trying to make it work in today’s world—a search for meaning that is, of course, very adult.” —Jennifer Croll, Straight.com

“[An] engaging debut novel . . . Three elements . . . power it . . . The first is that the plot, after chirping along somewhat predictably for two-hundred-odd pages, suddenly veers off in a direction that struck me as genuinely harrowing and unpredictable. The second is the obvious but somehow still essential fact that this book is proudly and unapologetically about two women who do not end up competing for or otherwise sacrificing their integrity in the pursuit of men. This may seem unremarkable, but such depictions are, somewhat inexplicably, quite rare: A casual and profoundly unscientific survey suggests that the number of books that pass the famous Bechdel test is dismally low. In a perfect world, a book that offers a warm and emotionally honest depiction of a friendship between young women should not need to be cause for celebration. In ours, it is. The third element of Friendship that I found deeply admirable, even heroic, is the subtle but unmistakable current of bracing feminist anger that thrums just under its otherwise breezy surface. It’s nothing so crude as that the men in the novel are creeps, although several are. It’s that Bev and Amy exist in a world where double standards and cultural and structural biases still reign, a realization which salts the narrative in subtle and unmistakable ways. If such a concept is somehow distasteful to you, then go read a book about the Civil War or something. There will always be plenty of those, even in Brooklyn.” —Michael Lindgren, The L Magazine

“More than an exploration of friendship, this novel is about what happens when the things we take for granted slip away and we are forced to come up with new ways of being . . . Gould does a fine job capturing the women’s frustrations, big and small, and the ways in which their friendship serves both as a hindrance and a means to maturing.” —Shoshana Olidort, The Chicago Tribune

Friendship, a slim, sometimes piercing novel, is a sharply observed chronicle of the inequality inherent in even the most valued friendships.” —Alyssa Rosenberg, The Washington Post

“Friendship, above all, is about the hardships of adulthood. ‘Adulthood,’ a very tossed-around phrase these days, encompasses and illuminates relationships, sex, careers, being able to pay our credit card bills on time, saying no, saying yes, going with our inexperienced guts, and understanding when we’ve won and when we’ve lost. I appreciated Friendship, because it made me feel less alone. I’m almost nothing like Amy OR Bev, but I still found comfort in their fumbling odysseys. And I think you will too.” —Gina Vaynshteyn, Hello Giggles

“Set in hipster Brookly, former Gawker editor Gould’s latest centers on Bev and Amy, 30-year-olds struggling to be grown-ups in a world where moving back home while working for peanuts is often the only course. It’s a wry, sharply observed coming-of-age story for the postrecession era.” —People

“There’s a difference between mere adulthood, which is legally defined, and being a grown-up, which is fuzzy and subjective. For the characters in Gould’s funny and affecting debut novel, this difference is sharply felt . . . The novel’s depiction of the dynamics of friendship—how there’s often affection and admiration mixed with envy and competition—feels authentic. Gould’s prose reads like the voice of the charmingly blunt friend you wish you had; her observations are hilarious and insightful. The portrayal of office ennui is depressingly accurate: Amy spends her time reading Wikipedia and checking Twitter, while Bev, collating papers, has a ‘flash of wanting to smash something made of flesh, her own hand or someone else’s.’ There’s a long tradition of novels about bright young women hoping to conquer New York. Many of these books culminate in glamorous self-actualization, but Friendship refuses this path. These characters must will themselves past disappointment and realistic problems—precarious finances, especially—and they don’t end up where you’d expect. What they choose—it’s the act of choosing that means everything—is as surprising as it is satisfying.” —Naoko Asano, Maclean’s

“In Ms. Gould’s . . . often sharply observed first novel, Friendship . . . Amy and Bev have just crossed a microgenerational line into their 30s, and there’s a self-conscious, faintly melancholy tone to [the novel]: the girls’ sense of looking back on the turmoil (and, in Amy’s case, hubris) of their swiftly receding 20s with both alarm and nostalgia, worried that things are starting to add up, that the clock is ticking more loudly now, that the arithmetic of their lives is changing . . . Depicting Amy and Bev in the third person gives Ms. Gould a measure of perspective on—and distance from—her characters, enabling her to depict their follies and foibles with a mixture of sympathy and humor. The novel form . . . also accentuates Ms. Gould’s strengths as a writer . . . Whereas the blogs tended to create a self-portrait of the author as human word processor (automatically slicing, dicing and churning experience into prose), Friendship isn’t the simple spewing (or venting or whining or knee-jerk reacting) of an obsessive oversharer. Rather, at its best, it points to Ms. Gould’s abilities as a keen-eyed noticer and her knack for nailing down her ravenous observations with energy and flair.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“[Friendship is a] very fine first novel . . . Most of us know honesty as a virtue, and fewer know it as a sneaky concept in the craft of fiction. The latter honesty is about eschewing cliché, mastering particular skills for making the reader feel confided in. The novel, or publishing itself, might be in jeopardy, but writing will live as long as there remains the distinct pleasure of being told an honest thing. It’s a little frightening, though; once transmuted into a literary principle, honesty becomes a talent of which almost none of us is truly capable . . . I submit that something like the following is unlikely and true: Emily Gould is one of the honest ones.” —M. C. Mah, The Rumpus

“Gould’s sparkling . . . debut . . . is both a love letter and a breakup letter to New York City, and an invocation of the feeling of living there in your 20s. As the characters reach 30, the air of endless possibility starts to be replaced with the uneasy feeling that, to misquote Frank Sinatra, if you can’t make it there, you can’t make it anywhere . . . Gould perfectly captures the entitled aimlessness of your 20s, that feeling that you need to buy yourself an expensive latte to cheer yourself up because you might not be able to afford rent that month.” —Rob Thomas, The Cap Times

“Gould’s strengths as a writer lie in her ability to portray contemporary women. Both main characters, who moved to Manhattan—well, Brooklyn—in order to conquer it often end up defeated . . . Though Gould’s book is called Friendship it’s about much more than, as the main characters might say, BFFs. It’s about transitioning from idealistic youth to realistic adulthood, sacrificing freedom for stability, and abandoning creative lifestyles in order to craft sustainable lives . . . Amy and Bev can be impulsive and oblivious. However, they’re recognizable to anyone who was ever told, as a child, that she could grow up to be anyone she wanted to be—and later struggled to figure out who that was . . . Though Friendship is a modern tale astutely told, it offers the class-consciousness reminiscent of a Victorian novel . . . Gould is a master of the telling detail or the ironic turn of phrase . . . With "Friendship," Gould establishes herself as a distinctively contemporary literary voice. Her dialogue resounds, and her dark humor gives texture to the prose. And though Friendship focuses on young women, readers need be neither young nor female in order to enjoy it . . . This is a very human story for any of us who have ever been jealous of a friend or wished our friends were more jealous of us.” —Grace Bello, Christian Science Monitor

“Gould is a gifted documentarian. The novel is filled with keenly observed details, especially about the outsize role that technology plays in her characters’ lives. ‘Are those Google predictions real?’ Amy asks at one point. ‘Do they work? They do, don’t they. Okay, cool, another thing I have to start paying attention to so that my life can be fully efficient and optimized.’ And Gould can draw a scathing character description: ‘Shoshana’s beauty disappeared the minute she opened her mouth; all that glowing skin and shimmering hair couldn’t compensate for the kind of voice you immediately associate with someone calling from the temple sisterhood to remind you it’s your turn to plate the oneg after Shabbat service.’” —Nora Krug, The Washington Post

“Two young women try to create the glamorous lives they’ve imagined for themselves while talking on Gchat from their desks at their less-than-ideal jobs. Bev left her cool-sounding but dispiriting entry-level position at a Manhattan publishing house to follow her boyfriend to the Midwest. Bad move. Now she’s back in New York, single again, and temping. Amy was once famous for her work at a hot website-or maybe she was just notorious: ‘[N]ow that she was neither, it mattered less which one it had been.’ She’s been working for three years at Yidster, ‘the third-most-popular online destination for cultural coverage with a modern Jewish angle,’ but is basically just floating through life on a diet of clicks and tweets, hoping her boyfriend will move in with her so she'll be able to keep paying the rent on her lovely brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. When Bev gets pregnant on a hilariously dreadful first date, the women are forced to confront their differing dreams and priorities. Plot takes a back seat to Gould’s razor-sharp humor and observations about life in New York among a class of young people who know more about how they’d like to live than how to pay for it. It’s also a delight to read a novel that places female friendship at its center; we watch Bev and Amy manage their fluctuating feelings of love, jealousy and sometimes disdain for each other. ‘It seems improbable that this hasn’t happened to us before,’ Amy says when she learns that Bev is pregnant. ‘Us?’ Bev replies. ‘Are you going to start saying ‘we’re pregnant’? . . . We’re not a couple, Amy.’ They’re not, but they are, and Gould brilliantly charts their ups and downs.” —Kirkus (starred review)

“There is a sentimental delight in reading Friendship and its roller coaster ride of urban highs and lows . . . In the end, Gould draws a vivid and convincing portrait of a friendship—​in all of its human misunderstandings, disappointments, and brokenness . . . It is no small feat to animate and chart the emotional fluctuations and subtle contours of female friendships on the page . . . [Gould] illuminate[s] what it means to grow up together and then sometimes apart.” —S. Kirk Walsh, The Virginia Quarterly Review

“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 . . . 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 . . . is to see things as they are, like a craftsperson, like a writer of novels has to see them.” —Kate Carraway, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

“A savvy first novel that, in piercing prose, zeroes in on modern ennui and the catalysts that force even the most apathetic out of their complacency.”  —Booklist

“A sharp, sad, unforgiving (in a great way) and remarkably funny exploration of thirty-something female friendship.” —Nerve

“Gould’s novel is admirably, readably realistic—she knows these girls and the world they live in (including the omnipresence of technology and the way that it pervades relationships) . . . Gould nails the complex blend of love, loyalty, and resentment that binds female friends. It is worth reading for the richness of its details (at one point, Amy is overwhelmed by the desire to put an engaged coworker’s wedding ring in her mouth), and it offers new insight into the experience of young women.” —Publishers Weekly

 

“I read Friendship with great pleasure. Emily Gould re-creates with wit and insight the New York I know: a place full of fame and money that’s not yours, where friends become family and lovers become ex-lovers, and the big questions about your life stay unanswered, and unanswerable, for a long time.” —Chad Harbach, author of The Art of Fielding“Truth-teller Emily Gould hurls her heart and her mind into this hilarious, bittersweet tale of the urgent, everyday need for connection between women.” —Jami Attenberg, author of The MiddlesteinsFriendship is a moving, focused, highly readable, very funny novel, told with a calming amount of perspective by a trustworthy, precise voice. It is intimate and insightful regarding two decades of life (early twenties to middle age), and on the topics of endurance (emotional, financial), relationships (work, platonic, romantic—human), and jobs (temp, Internet, freelance art) in New York City.” —Tao Lin, author of TaipeiFriendship is especially honest about professional insecurity and personal uncertainty, which makes it an especially funny novel. And Emily Gould’s prose sounds so admirably up-to-the-minute because it so faithfully observes classical principles of transparency and directness.” —Benjamin Kunkel, author of Indecision

 

 

Praise for Emily Gould:

 

“[Emily Gould is] massively talented, just as good at devastating us with an emotional truth as she is at amusing us with a clever joke.” —Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep and American Wife

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-04-10
Two young women try to create the glamorous lives they've imagined for themselves while talking on Gchat from their desks at their less-than-ideal jobs. Bev left her cool-sounding but dispiriting entry-level position at a Manhattan publishing house to follow her boyfriend to the Midwest. Bad move. Now she's back in New York, single again, and temping. Amy was once famous for her work at a hot website—or maybe she was just notorious: "[N]ow that she was neither, it mattered less which one it had been." She's been working for three years at Yidster, "the third-most-popular online destination for cultural coverage with a modern Jewish angle," but is basically just floating through life on a diet of clicks and tweets, hoping her boyfriend will move in with her so she'll be able to keep paying the rent on her lovely brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. When Bev gets pregnant on a hilariously dreadful first date, the women are forced to confront their differing dreams and priorities. Plot takes a back seat to Gould's razor-sharp humor and observations about life in New York among a class of young people who know more about how they'd like to live than how to pay for it. It's also a delight to read a novel that places female friendship at its center; we watch Bev and Amy manage their fluctuating feelings of love, jealousy and sometimes disdain for each other. "It seems improbable that this hasn't happened to us before," Amy says when she learns that Bev is pregnant. "Us?" Bev replies. "Are you going to start saying ‘we're pregnant'?...We're not a couple, Amy." They're not, but they are, and Gould brilliantly charts their ups and downs.Perfect summer reading for people who'd rather stay in the city than go to the beach.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374158613
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 7/1/2014
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 63,685
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Emily Gould

Emily Gould is the author of And the Heart Says Whatever and the co-owner, with Ruth Curry, of a feminist publishing startup, Emily Books, which sells new and backlist titles via a subscription model. She has written extensively for many publications, including The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, MIT’s Technology Review, Poetry, the London Review of Books, n+1, The Guardian, The Economist, Slate, and Jezebel, and was an editor at Gawker in 2008. She is best known as a blogger, having maintained a popular online presence since 2005 at www.emilymagazine.com. She lives in New York.

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Read an Excerpt

1

The temp agency’s application was only four pages long, but somehow Bev hadn’t managed to fill it out. She’d told herself that she would do it on the subway on the morning of the interview, but then the train was so crowded that it was impossible even to reach into her bag to get the form. Also, J. R. Pinkman was in her subway car, waving to her from his own packed corner. She smiled—it was nice to see someone she knew, in this context, to be reminded of who she was underneath her costume. “Dress corporately,” the woman at the temp agency had told her in an email, and now she was riding the B train at 8:30 a.m. in a taupe trench coat over a jacket and skirt that were slightly different shades of black. But while it was good to catch a glimpse of a familiar face, she didn’t want to actually talk to J.R. She wanted to grab a seat when the train let half its passengers off at Grand Street and then use the remaining ten minutes of the commute to fill out her form. She waved back at him, but dropped her gaze and dipped her head down, conveying preoccupied busyness and giving him tacit permission to do the same.

The train stopped at Grand Street, and J.R. bumped and pushed down the length of car between himself and Bev. They’d worked together at Warwicke Smythe, a literary agency, and Bev had even maybe had a slight crush on him when she’d first met him. But in this morning subway light no one looked too great. J.R. was also carrying several dingy tote bags, presumably containing several different shitty manuscripts, in addition to the one in his hand.

“Where are you headed?” he asked, gesturing at Bev’s outfit.

“I’m temping,” she said. It felt good to admit it and then, in the silence that followed, less good to have done so.

“I thought you were in grad school!”

“I was, for a year.” She smile-winced. “It, uh, it just started seeming like this huge waste of money. But now I have to start paying back the huge amount of money I already wasted.” She pointed at the manuscript he was holding, desperate to redirect the conversation and to remind him (and herself) that she’d left the literary agency for a good reason. “Reading anything good?”

J.R. shook the sheaf of printed-out pages in his hand. “Ha, are you kidding? It’s just more of Warwicke’s memoirs.” J.R. was one of a team of assistants employed mostly to type up and copyedit their ancient boss’s never-to-be-published memoirs, and also to roll him to the restroom every half hour or so. “You must be so thrilled that you don’t have to think about any of this bullshit anymore.”

“Ha, yeah. Thrilled. Unemployment is thrilling.”

The train shuddered to a halt at Broadway-Lafayette. “Well, tell everyone I say hi!” Bev said as J.R. gathered his tote bags and prepared to disembark.

“I will. I’ll make an announcement about it in the morning meeting,” he shouted over the mechanized command to stand clear of the closing doors.

“Don’t tell them I’m temping!” she called after him as he left the train, but he didn’t turn around and Bev wasn’t sure whether he’d heard her.

She climbed up out of the subway into Bryant Park five minutes before the interview was supposed to start and looked around for a spot where she could huddle and fill out the application. The first raindrops of a sudden storm were falling just as she got aboveground, and her taupe trench coat immediately developed ugly dark blotches. She was going to have to buy one of those street vendor umbrellas. They cost only five dollars, but they were pretty much worthless, so it always seemed like a shame, and five dollars represented a depressingly large percentage of Bev’s current net worth. Ducking under an overhang by the library steps, she checked the ledge at her elbow for pigeon poop before putting the form down on it. The standard stuff—references, employment history—she completed quickly, then found herself unexpectedly stymied, with only a minute left, by a question on the last page.

“What are your grandest aspirations?”

There were spaces for three grand aspirations, each space about half a line long. Not even long enough for a full sentence. Bev glanced at her watch, then spent an infinite frozen moment watching a pair of finches hopping around in the grass, yelling their little heads off over a scrap of chain-café cookie. The last time she’d confronted this stupid question had probably been in high school, or in church as a teenager. She imagined teen Bev filling in the blanks with zero hesitation: 1. Serve God. 2. Marry a good Christian. 3. Raise children in the ways of the Lord. Had she believed these were her true goals, even then? By freshman year of college, the grand aspirations would already have shifted to 1. Read every book. 2. Live as far away from the Midwest as possible. 3. Never turn down an opportunity to get shitfaced.

But what were her grandest aspirations now, and more important, what could she pretend they were so that the last page of this godforsaken form wouldn’t be empty? She peeked at her cracked old iPhone to make sure her watch was correct, saw the time, and then hurriedly began to write. The truth, as usual, came to her more easily than fiction.

“1. Achieve financial stability” was real, if obvious.

“2. Find community” was vague, but who cared, and

“3. Feel like I’m playing an important role in life” was maybe too weird, but it was the first thing that popped into her head, and better than a blank line.

Ten minutes later she was sitting across a small table from a sweet-faced woman in a miniature windowless room with blank walls. It looked like an interrogation room. Bev resisted the temptation to make a joke about requesting that her lawyer be present. The application was on the table between them, and the woman flipped through it. She nodded, nodded, nodded, then wrinkled her forehead.

“There’s a little gap in employment here, Beverly. Can I ask why?”

“Oh, yes, sorry. I didn’t know how to indicate what happened there.”

The interviewer made a little mm-hmm noise, tilted her chin up, and widened her eyes, as though she were generously trying to keep an open mind.

“When I left the publishing house, it was because I moved to Madison to be with my boyfriend, who was going to law school there. I lived there for a year, and I had a service job, working in a wine bar. I didn’t think it was worth mentioning, and I don’t have the information for the manager or anything.”

“But then you moved back here and worked at the literary agency?”

“Yes, three years ago.”

“And then you quit working at the agency to go to graduate school.”

“I started a master’s program. I decided that particular program wasn’t for me, and I might, uh, apply to other programs. At some point.”

The woman grimaced, so quickly Bev almost didn’t notice. She was wearing a mall-jewelry necklace made of oversize knobs of fake silver and gold, in which Bev could see a distorted reflection of her own face. “So is your boyfriend all done with law school now?”

“I assume so. We broke up, and I moved back to New York. I mean, I obviously wish I’d never quit my job and moved to be with him, but what can you do?”

“I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up a touchy subject. And of course that’s not germane to the interview. I think we should probably say you took a year off to travel—how’s that?”

“Sure.”

“And you’re a writer?”

“Yup!”

“That’s so cool! So what kind of stuff do you write?”

Temp agency applications. “Oh, everything. I mean, all kinds of stuff. I’m working on some stories right now that are sort of … memoiristic?”

“I think that’s so interesting! Where would I have seen your work? I love memoirs! Right now my book club is reading Eat, Pray, Love. I love the author. She’s so … gutsy, you know? Just leaving her whole life behind and traveling alone for a year.”

“Yes, she was very gutsy.”

“What you did was sort of like that!”

“Sort of!” Bev felt an involuntary tightness in the back of her throat, as though she might start crying. She willed it away with a brisk shake of her head that she hoped was subtle. “So what kinds of placements, I mean, with my qualifications … what are you thinking? My friend who referred me to your agency said that potentially you could find me an admin assistant placement … I have lots of experience being someone’s assistant, as you can see…”

The interviewer’s eyes skimmed over the résumé again and then, unsubtly, over Bev, taking in the scuffed pumps, the mismatched blacks, the spill of corn silk–colored hair that Bev had hurriedly tried to corral with a chip clip because she couldn’t find a hair elastic. Bev had a natural, farmgirlish loveliness, but she had never been able to pull off what fashion magazines called a “polished” look, maybe because that look required either preternatural self-grooming talents or having been born rich.

“Well, a lot of those positions are in finance and law, and with your … qualifications it seems like you’d be better suited to publishing. I don’t have anything in publishing available at the moment, but we could wait a few weeks and see if anything came up?”

“Oh. Okay. Well, um, do you have anything that isn’t admin? I would be happy to do other kinds of projects. The thing is, I’d just like to get started as soon as possible.”

The interviewer flipped cursorily through her binder, but then something caught her by surprise and she stopped. “Oh! Wait. There is this. Commercial real estate company. They’re putting together sales report packets and need help collating the reports for distribution to their shareholders; they don’t want to outsource it to a document prep service because the material is confidential. What do you think? You’d also be filling in for a receptionist, but the work is mostly collating and binding. Maybe some light phones. Your own desk and everything.”

“That sounds perfect!” Bev said. All words spoken in this room were so disassociated from meaning, she thought, then reminded herself not to be a snob. This temp job wasn’t an option she could take or leave. It was the difference between eating and not.

“Great! You could start tomorrow, actually, if you liked. Oh, and it’s ten fifty an hour. So I’ll just get you a packet with your contract and some stubs for your hours, and we’ll be in business!”

“Wonderful!” said Bev. Ten fifty—minus the taxes they’d withhold, minus the hour-long lunch that would be deducted even if she spent it at her desk. If she could somehow work at this temp placement for the next twenty years and not spend any money on food or rent, she would be able to pay back her student loans by the time she was seventy-five.

Copyright © 2014 by Emily Gould

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  • Posted October 8, 2014

    I took this out of my local public library and it was a delightf

    I took this out of my local public library and it was a delightful read. It's the story of thirty-something female friends that are dealing with typical issues living in NY, things like making a living, paying of student loans, choosing a mate, etc. The dialogue is often funny and the friendships seems real. There should be more books like this, a good, entertaining, read. I enjoyed it so much I took it to work to read at lunch. I'm a big reader of most literary fiction, it's not easy to please me!

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