She Matters: A Life in Friendships

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Overview

THE BEST FRIEND WHO BROKE UP WITH YOU. The older girl at school you worshipped. The friend who betrayed you. The friend you betrayed. Companions in travel, in discovery, in motherhood, in grief; the mentor, the model, the rescuer, the guide, the little sister. These have been the friends in Susanna Sonnenberg’s life, women tender, dominant, and crucial.

Searing and superbly written, Sonnenberg’s She Matters: A Life in Friendships illuminates the friendships that have influenced,...

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Overview

THE BEST FRIEND WHO BROKE UP WITH YOU. The older girl at school you worshipped. The friend who betrayed you. The friend you betrayed. Companions in travel, in discovery, in motherhood, in grief; the mentor, the model, the rescuer, the guide, the little sister. These have been the friends in Susanna Sonnenberg’s life, women tender, dominant, and crucial.

Searing and superbly written, Sonnenberg’s She Matters: A Life in Friendships illuminates the friendships that have influenced, nourished, inspired, and haunted her—and sometimes torn her apart. Each has its own lessons that Sonnenberg seeks to understand. Her method is investigative and ruminative; her result, fearlessly observed portraits of friendships that will inspire all readers to consider the complexities of their own relationships. This electric book is testimony to the emotional bonds between women, whether shattered, shaky, or unbreakable.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Susan Chira
Susanna Sonnenberg captures the fervor of these friendships, their dark undercurrents as well as their sustaining generosity…Sonnenberg demonstrates a self-awareness that is clearly hard-earned, one of the many qualities she has absorbed from her eclectic and generous friends. In the end, that determination to learn from the women who are close to her, to investigate where she failed and where they did, is what gives the book such resonance. She Matters lingers with you, inviting you to construct a patchwork quilt of your own life and salute the many women who helped you along the way.
Publishers Weekly
A tribute to her lifelong “fortress of friendship,” Sonnenberg (Her Last Death) guides a tour through the female friendships that have inspired her, broken her, and brought her back to life. Dependent on friends for the nurturing and solace missing from her relationship with her mother and sister, women come and go throughout the years to provide varied roles in her life. Some were friendships built out of mutual need, circumstance, or an interest that eventually faded to a faint glimmer where there was once fire. Others are fleeting moments in which two lives touch, that moment with unforgettable significance as when an acquaintance from college becomes a sudden pillar in a time of tragedy. Loneliness and the dire need to belong may also fuel a union, as Sonnenberg professes: “That spring day I felt dangerously unloved. I needed to be included anywhere, at some table.” Yet finding it “easier to be the hero... than to wait for rescue, afraid of inevitable disappointment,” it was difficult for her to trust help from anyone, “nervous as usual about uneven power, tallied debts.” Sonnenberg’s strikingly honest depictions of tumultuous female alliances and confessions about friendships are both moving and relatable; her depth of reflection and incandescent prose marks this exceptional memoir as a must-read to share among friends. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME. (Jan.)
Parade
“Susanna Sonnenberg’s book reminds us how profoundly we’re affected by our friendships….You’ll want to share this with, yes, a friend.”
From the Publisher
“In her stunning second memoir, a collection of linked essays, Sonnenberg finds universal truths in her experiences of female friendship.”

She Matters is both a remembrance of vital friendships as well as a deeply absorbing portrait of the author herself…There are beautiful moments documented here…but ultimately She Matters is a deeply affecting ode to the ones who got away.”

She Matters lingers with you, inviting you to construct a patchwork quilt of your own life and salute the many women who helped you along the way.”

“Sonnenberg is a gifted literary stylist with a stunning ability to write sentences that read like beautiful traps…She Matters artfully reveals the depth and gravity of love between women as they make sense of the changing and often treacherous emotional and logistical terrain of their forward-moving lives.”

“I read She Matters with such a keen sense of recognition, seeing myself (and my own mistakes and victories) repeated in so many forms through the female friendships of her own that Sonnenberg examines so eloquently…Like all of us, I want to do better. I think (hope) this book can help.”

“I was dazzled by this wise and intimate memoir about female friendship. Sonnenberg writes incredible sentences: precise, musical, surprising and insightful…Sonnenberg’s engrossing stories of the highs and lows of her various friendships with women, made me feel newly grateful for all the crucial and complex women in my own life…Everyone should read this book.”

“Sonnenberg, who’s aware of her passions and ambivalences, and doesn’t hide from them, made me think about what a friendship is, anyway…She’s written something that interests, exhausts, moves, perplexes, impresses and yes, matters.”

She Matters is a dark and intriguing piece of writing…rewarding…rich…[Sonnenberg’s] honesty has helped and will help me be more honest with myself within (and in regard to) friendships.”

“Susanna Sonnenberg’s book reminds us how profoundly we’re affected by our friendships….You’ll want to share this with, yes, a friend.”

“Sonnenberg is a beautiful writer…In this gallery of friendships, the portrait of each woman is so well drawn we grasp their significance and savor the intimacy.”

Library Journal
Having written affectingly about her mother in Her Last Death, Sonnenberg here expands to all female relationships, from childhood friendships to friendships with older women to the friendships among new mothers. As she shows, relationships between women can have the burning intensity of love affairs. Highlighted at the Day of Dialog Editors' Picks panel.
Kirkus Reviews
The intimate, often unsparing reflections of a woman writer on a lifetime of friendships with other women. Early on, essayist Sonnenberg (Her Last Death, 2008) learned, from the troubled mother who thought nothing of snorting cocaine in front of her and her sister and then confiding to them about her sexual exploits, that women were not only "fierce, supreme and capable," but also "devious and cunning." The other girls and women who entered Sonnenberg's life would have other lessons for her. One of the first friends she made as a child taught her that it was possible to have "no drama at all" in a relationship with another female. Others, like the girls she met in boarding school, became role models, comforters and confidantes. They helped Sonnenberg navigate a turbulent adolescence that included an affair with a married teacher and other sexual betrayals. Two young women brought the author into an awareness of females as objects of desire. As an adult, Sonnenberg had many passionate friendships, only to either outgrow them or be outgrown by them. When she married and became a mother, the challenges she faced in her relationships with other women increased. Not only was she still trying to fulfill her yearning for lasting connections with other females who also lived complicated lives, she was also confronted with having to "rewrite…my previous definition of motherhood" and grow beyond the example her own mother had set for her. With heart-rending precision, Sonnenberg offers an eloquent narrative that not only exposes but embraces the fraught nature of women's relationships with each other.
The New York Times Book Review - Susan Chira
She Matters lingers with you, inviting you to construct a patchwork quilt of your own life and salute the many women who helped you along the way.”
The Boston Globe - Emily Rapp
“Sonnenberg is a gifted literary stylist with a stunning ability to write sentences that read like beautiful traps…She Matters artfully reveals the depth and gravity of love between women as they make sense of the changing and often treacherous emotional and logistical terrain of their forward-moving lives.”
BookPage - Kelly Blewett
“Susanna Sonnenberg’s She Matters is a cause for celebration…The book’s honesty, eloquence, laugh-out-loud humor, finely wrought prose and magnificent scope will keep readers eagerly turning the pages…For readers who welcome a complex perspective beautifully rendered in writing, this book is not to be missed.”
People (4-star review) - Meredith Maran
“In her stunning second memoir, a collection of linked essays, Sonnenberg finds universal truths in her experiences of female friendship.”
NPR’s “All Things Considered” - Meg Wolitzer
“Sonnenberg, who’s aware of her passions and ambivalences, and doesn’t hide from them, made me think about what a friendship is, anyway…She’s written something that interests, exhausts, moves, perplexes, impresses and yes, matters.”
The Daily Beast - Mythili Rao
She Matters is both a remembrance of vital friendships as well as a deeply absorbing portrait of the author herself…There are beautiful moments documented here…but ultimately She Matters is a deeply affecting ode to the ones who got away.”
Kate Walbert
"With remarkable candor, wit, and wisdom, Susanna Sonnenberg fearlessly examines her female friendships since childhood, brilliantly articulating the ways each sustained, sometimes devastated and ultimately defined her. She Matters: A Life in Friendships is a dazzling, poetic love letter to what women share, an unforgettable memoir you'll immediately want to pass along to friends."
Nick Flynn
She Matters is so finely nuanced, so joyously serious, so wildly playful—to live with it, page by page, is a deep pleasure. Sonnenberg is also so willing to push below the surface of what we call “friendship” (a surface, alas, most of us are willing to exist upon). Near the end, when we encounter the phrase “A perfect thing from dread pain,” we recognize that is what we have in our hands—a perfect thing.”
The Dallas Morning News - Jenny Shank
“[Sonnenberg’s] vivid prose is confessional and precise…Sonnenberg’s intensity might be rough on friendships, but it makes for charged storytelling.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune - Rochelle Olson
“These are the stories of real women. Sonnenberg’s hard-core honesty, sharp detail and lovely prose make this a collection worth passing on to a friend.”
BookRiot - Rebecca Joines Schinsky
“It is one thing to talk about the value and importance of friendships between women and another thing entirely to offer up one’s own friendships—the successes, the failures, the warmth, and the wrongdoing—by way of example and exploration To do the latter requires guts, candor, and a willingness to expose one’s own weaknesses and mistakes. Sonnenberg rises to the challenge beautifully and with remarkable grace in She Matters.”
BookTrib
“Sonnenberg brings her considerable talent, unflinching eye, and electrifying prose to the topic of female friendship.”
Moves magazine
“Rarely does someone write a book about friendship between women that women can relate to the way they can relate to Sonnenberg’s She Matters.”
Carolyn Cooke
“Sonnenberg dances close to the fire on every page, unmasking female friendship as a liberating, dangerous and rigorous art. She Matters renders the messy self with gorgeous clarity. It's the truest, most human book I’ve read all year - generous, hilarious, ecstatic and profound.”
Parade
“Susanna Sonnenberg’s book reminds us how profoundly we’re affected by our friendships….You’ll want to share this with, yes, a friend.”
Elizabeth Gilbert
“I read She Matters with such a keen sense of recognition, seeing myself (and my own mistakes and victories) repeated in so many forms through the female friendships of her own that Sonnenberg examines so eloquently…Like all of us, I want to do better. I think (hope) this book can help.”
Karen Thompson Walker
“I was dazzled by this wise and intimate memoir about female friendship. Sonnenberg writes incredible sentences: precise, musical, surprising and insightful…Sonnenberg’s engrossing stories of the highs and lows of her various friendships with women, made me feel newly grateful for all the crucial and complex women in my own life…Everyone should read this book.”
The San Francisco Chronicle - Mary Pols
She Matters is a dark and intriguing piece of writing…rewarding…rich…[Sonnenberg’s] honesty has helped and will help me be more honest with myself within (and in regard to) friendships.”
New York Daily News - Sherryl Connelly
“Sonnenberg is a beautiful writer…In this gallery of friendships, the portrait of each woman is so well drawn we grasp their significance and savor the intimacy.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439190586
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 1/8/2013
  • Pages: 255
  • Sales rank: 710,531
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Susanna Sonnenberg is the author of Her Last Death. She lives in Montana with her family.

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Read an Excerpt

She Matters


  • Annabelle was fierce about what was right. Letters were right, and invitations were right, and confidences and emergencies shared. She was soldierly about friendship: It must be like this, it will be like this. She sat me on her settee and leafed through the gilded album of pictures from five months before, explaining the Southern traditions, the rituals of weddings, the habits of her family. She was the third Annabelle in four generations on her mother’s side. I went along, pleased to have instruction. She had a way of letting me know I had the right things coming to me.

Here’s how we met: my boyfriend Jason and I were fairly new tenants in a modest Boston apartment building, slightly run-down, affordable. We noticed the couple at the U-Haul. Usually, we heard arguments in front of our living-room window, which was eye level with the sidewalk. The neighborhood was like that, a bit rough, and scraps of yelling would drift in, the sounds of car brakes, mad kids, doors slammed, so at the sight of two healthy people standing close together and smiling, we paid attention. He towered over her, but—their hair the exact same brown and their telegraphed understanding so complete—at first we thought they were brother and sister. A few weeks later the woman and I said hello by the mailboxes. I was on my way out, but I’d been hoping to run into her and we stopped a minute. She said they were newlyweds. I must have mentioned my birthday. The next week, on the morning I turned twenty-one, I opened my front door to find on the floor a tin of muffins with a tiny pot of jam. The note on heavy cardstock read

For your Birthday.

The strawberry tastes wonderful while the muffins are still warm.

Love from Annabelle Upstairs.

I’d never been above the first level of our building. Their door was ajar, and as I approached Annabelle pulled it open, holding coffee, one hand clasping at her white robe. “Dear Susanna!” She urged the mug forward, pressed my hand around it, and I was awash in celebration. Sunlight spilled across her tiny living room, but we didn’t stop. She led the way. Her husband reclined in their bed, four spindled posters almost to the ceiling; mounds of white linens, tatted edges visible, and him in a white robe, too. She introduced us. “Peter, this is Susanna.” She climbed up, piled her body against his, a look of such infinite gratitude and satisfaction on her face, it made me love her and hate her.

She gestured to the end of the bed, patted the duvet. I stayed in the doorway, only inches from them. Downstairs, her tin was on my kitchen table, our daylight gray, and Jason preparing to leave for the law library. She’d baked this morning, for me. I hardly knew her. Seeing me uncertain, she was gentle and laughing, “Come on, sugarfoot!” I struggled with this warmth, all this cozy invitation, drawn in and cautious. Annabelle regarded me from her delirium of marriage, of beginnings, of a pronounced and beguiling heritage.

• • •

Our friendship exploded, rampant and promiscuous. I was in my last year of college, gearing up for larger academic responsibility, but Annabelle was thirty, had earned a doctorate, had had the wedding. She knew no one else, in Boston because of Peter’s medical residency. She had the bare knowledge she needed, her axis of home, hospital, work, where she was isolated with monotonous data entry. Daily, she urged me, “Come upstairs, come to our apartment,” and up I went, into the foreign reaches of my own building. I was happy to take a break from my senior thesis, and from Jason, month four of living together in our off-campus apartment (“Do you think you could make dinner tonight?”). Her stately furniture was antique, all the way from Charleston. Although the pieces were absurd in our cheap building, I was clouded by envy I had to beat back, how she belonged to these objects and through them understood her own belonging. The cherrywood pedestal table, chairs to match, art, a breakfront, and a sofa with curving lines all cramped the rooms. She had a framed photo of herself in a wedding dress with her mother beside her.

In our first weeks—no, days—we confessed to adoring Hemingway, although as women we’d been trained to resist him, object. But we knew he mattered more than a temporary feminist argument! We found masculinity delicious and essential! We handed each other outrageous secrets, told what we liked in bed, or hadn’t yet dared, raw details of Peter and Jason spilled freely at my kitchen table, frank sexual expression that I’d never shared with a friend so easily before. I loved her greedy whisper as she said “fuck” or “fucking,” her plain revelry. She’s like me, I thought. We explained the important women and sisters, described the scotched friendships, disrupted by rivalries, breaches, unmeant treacheries. Yes, yes. Our pure, driven intensity was too much for most people, we agreed. We were too much, we knew it—so we could be that way together. We shared our confusion about our powerful mothers, mutual permission to say the worst. Annabelle, intrepid topographer, had considered the daughter’s dilemma and seized the power of distance and geography, and I felt allowed in my inarticulate ambivalence. She left Faulkner outside my door, a vintage cloth edition with no jacket, and collections of Keats and Ashbery. Her serpentine inscriptions began, “O dear Susanna,” like proper letters, making the most of the endpapers.

We didn’t see much of Peter. Weekday evenings, Annabelle flew upstairs and cooked a real dinner, which she sealed in containers and took to the hospital. Her generosity was fueled, to my astonishment, by consideration. Jason and I competed, sought ways to score. We loved fucking, but out of bed we waited to see who would do something for whom. Sometimes, returning happy from her quick trip to the hospital, Annabelle tapped at our door. She whispered the day’s delights in my ear, her pride at Peter’s success, as she waved to Jason in the room beyond. I wondered that this smart woman carried on this way, but I began to see that the duty gave her meaningful solace, compensation for Peter’s daily absence, nightly absence. She went to sleep in that high bed, and he returned at three or four. They made love right away, she’d told me, or before she dressed for work. Once, from the stairwell, I heard them, a marvelous violence and oblivion from their apartment. I heard a rougher, more animal Annabelle, even more persuasive.

• • •

When we were together, Annabelle, Peter, and I, we were noisy, a heady unfurling of adventures, of tenor and soprano laughter. This movie, that book! Were you listening to the hearings? Isn’t Greece wonderful, the honey, the ouzo, the lamb? Jason had since moved out, our intermittent nastiness finally full-blown and unlivable, and often, often, I went upstairs for Sunday breakfast, tea at dusk, wine in their pretty goblets. Passing behind Peter’s chair as he talked, Annabelle would lean over and slide her arms down his chest until her chin rested on his shoulder. Her cheek pressed to his, both of them facing me, his long bangs fell into her hair, mixing chestnut and chestnut. I felt them, the force field and mutual possession, and her magnetic reach to gather me, although I wasn’t clear whether I was friend, sister, or charge.

Alone, Annabelle always wanted more of me. I’d finish an answer, but she’d bend to me, one bare foot tucked under her on the settee, and say, “Tell me the rest.” She made me think I had more, and in the beginning I was flattered. Then I felt I should have more when I truly didn’t, and this wearied me. My answers weren’t right. She’d chide me, pull nearer, her hand flattened at her chest. “I know what’s in here, dear Susanna. You can show me.” I groped for safety, reached for the edges. I wanted the ecstatic game and party, but also—Show me the invisible and the silences. Show me the complex task of belonging.

• • •

We walked together down Newbury Street. Peter had a rare day off, which Annabelle turned into festivity. Nobody but Peter made her laugh with freedom and mischief, and she was very giddy. Their divine flame lapped at me. We’d gone to a place they loved for a late breakfast of eggs Florentine. Now we walked in the sun, Annabelle in the middle, holding my arm while her rhapsodic gaze greeted her husband. Sexual franticness was always between them. We stopped into little shops, a makeup store, where I let the saleswoman dab shadow over my eyelids while Annabelle and Peter browsed with aimless pleasure, hand in hand. I owned hardly any makeup, and festive and expansive myself, I bought it.

Outside Annabelle said, “Well, sugarfoot. That’s not a good color on you.”

“It isn’t?”

“No. You should wear more pinks. Don’t you think, Peter? Plums and pinks on our glorious Susanna?”

“The woman in the store liked it,” I said.

“Well, she’s paid to say that, isn’t she?” She pulled me closer by the sleeve, firm possession. “Never mind, we’ll find you the right color sometime.”

Once home I left the coppery pressed powder in the bag. Then the bag went into the cabinet under the bathroom sink. When I moved I packed the unopened shadow, and it traveled from one life to another until I tossed it, but only after it had become perplexing clutter in a drawer, had lost its burnish of Annabelle.

• • •

After college I moved to New York. My father was growing sicker. His doctor walked me to a corner of the apartment and hinted at impending change. At first I didn’t understand what he meant, and then I did. My plans would be altered. Instead of going to England for graduate school, I would stay, live nearby for his last year, be a comfort, learn him better. “Of course you will,” Annabelle said on the phone. She believed in family decrees, the historical solemnities that told you who you were. She revered the power of matriarchs, and she adored fathers, understood the exact sort of softness they wanted from daughters. She came for a weekend, and she flirted jovially with my father, let him flatter her. I knew just that excitement but was trying to outgrow it.

When I fell in love with a new man, I brought him up from New York to meet Peter and Annabelle, and we went out to dinner. Noah was definitely a serious boyfriend, and in the ladies’ room, Annabelle and I celebrated my efforts. On the return train I was sad, I told him, that I lived apart from her, my jubilant guide and champion, the one friend who fueled my burn and reveled in the feisty necessity of wanton spirit. He didn’t get it.

Then, age twenty-four and thinking I knew what I needed to know, I decided to marry Noah.

Annabelle called me up one night. I gave her reports of my wedding plans, remembering each detail of hers—how her mother and sisters were dressed, the sprays of corsage against the chocolate shimmer of their gowns, how her mother had almost stayed in the background, for once.

“December, we think,” I said.

She said, “Peter and I don’t like him.” Words died in my mouth. “Peter and I don’t trust him.” She told me I was headed into mistake, that I was acting out of fear about my father’s health. “Don’t confuse your men,” she said, her tone firm. I didn’t repeat this to Noah, but I went over it, growing angrier with her, a real wedge that threw me into distress. How could she? How dare she? Would I still call her my best friend? I didn’t want to be told that unconscious anxiety dictated my choices. Later, when I left Noah—invitations, band, dress, cases of champagne, all canceled—I wouldn’t have said it was Annabelle, because by then other problems had eclipsed that conversation, but I’ll admit she’d seen harm imminent, and seen it long before I had.

• • •

Annabelle was the first of my friends to have a baby, and when she delivered, I took the train up right away. I didn’t bring the baby a gift, wasn’t clear on the customs. I brought presents for Annabelle: a long Victorian novel for her empty hours, a pair of delicate drop earrings, and a black lace camisole, “for later,” I said. We’ll fix this, return order. Sex will prevail. Annabelle showed no interest, eyes trained on her newborn. Peter leaned against the bedpost and talked to me. The box with the tissue paper was pushed to one side of the bed, waiting to be taken away. I was confused and replayed the steps I’d followed, looking for some mistake: didn’t Annabelle want to be reminded that she wasn’t only mother, that she would recover from the distended belly and glory again in the mania of a passionate body? That’s what I’d want. I was offering her the recognition that a baby wouldn’t define her. It seemed, though, that that was not what she wanted at all.

In a matter of quick, troubling weeks, we had little left in common, the friendship knocked from prominence. I let her talk through every shift, sensing that’s what would secure our connection. I discarded content—ounces of weight gain and engraved silver cups sent by formal cousins—which I deemed irrelevant, and listened for Annabelle’s charms and vigor, her erotic growl. She was drowsing in the big new love, the outside world gone. All her generous attention left me, poured over the child. I wish I could say I learned something—how much sacrifice of self a baby demanded, for instance—but I was listening for what was left of me in her life.

• • •

One evening I called. Peter was mostly at the hospital, his hours stepped up, and Annabelle was isolated. Poor Annabelle, I thought, who needs so much brightness, and the bigness of sex, and poems with glorious, unexpected configurations, everything I’d need: stuck alone in her apartment with a baby.

“Hey, it’s me.”

“Well, hi, you.” There was effort.

“You okay?”

In a voice of awful stillness she said, “Something happened.” She told me: It was a beautiful morning. The baby was a dream, cooing, kicking. They lay on the bed. When the kettle whistled, Annabelle tucked pillows around him and went to brew tea. I knew that teapot, another pretty and precious thing, handed down by the many women. She returned to the bedroom, and her baby’s face lit up at the sight of her. She set teacup and saucer on the covers, leaned over, and smiled at her soft, new son. The baby gave a quick, regular spasm, which overturned the cup, and the liquid spilled out. “It burned him, Susanna.” Annabelle said this slowly, as if having memorized a great text but unsure I would see every detail. I saw. She told about the burn unit, the scarring and the grafting. All the vocabulary was terrible. We both knew Annabelle had made a mistake. We both kept seeing that teacup upright, before it became the story of the teacup. I wouldn’t have my first child for another seven years, but then the story would return to me. Then I properly felt its horror and grasped the passionate anguish of my old friend.

• • •

After her twins, Annabelle disappeared completely into the opaque realm of motherhood, to me a dusty replica of herself. We’d been friends about five or six years. I’d made the effort with the first child, celebrated the new birthdays, stuck the baby’s photograph on my fridge door—the sun spotlit his hairless head, his mother lying on the grass behind him, an arm around his waist to prop him up. That direct Annabelle look into the camera of rigor and right and satisfaction. But with the din and demand of three children, Annabelle could never return calls. Of course not; it was up to me to keep calling, and, of course, I called less.

I was visiting Boston one time, and I phoned last-minute, excited to surprise her, and she invited me over. Our reunions, especially as they’d grown rare, carried a necessary importance for me, benchmarks as I presented my major developments to someone who had been invested a long time in my happiness. It was pleasant in their new house, with the bright fabrics, and generous space for the distinguished heirlooms, and the framed wedding tableaux set out on a grand piano. We were on her settee, the twins asleep in another room, the boy at fierce play on the rug, humming a sweet babble that didn’t distract me.

Annabelle patted my leg. “Tell me, Susanna. What have you done with your Boston days?”

Friends, I said. Bookstores, movies, a walk along the Charles.

“And what else?” This comforted me, our old way retained.

“Well, what?” I said. “Oh, I know.” I’d run into a boss from an early job. We’d had coffee. “And then he walked me to my car. We were chatting about the usual, his kids, his wife, and then he said, ‘I really want to fuck you.’” I felt a queasy thrill reporting this, myself center-stage desirable and the boss weak with lechery.

Annabelle said slowly, “Why are you sitting here, Susanna, telling me this, this, this unattractive story?”

Easy: long ago you and I bonded over the blatant dreams in the faces of men. We knew we could assess their obvious longing as they eyed our breasts, our mouths, our loose hair, as they shifted on their feet to close the air between us. We knew the uncanny fever we inspired in empty classrooms, as our professors flattered our minds, thought they seduced us; the bosses made pliant and ours because of our unequivocal, unafraid eye contact.

“I cannot understand why you imagined I’d want to hear this,” she said. It happened to me, I thought, dismayed; you always wanted to know what happened to me. We were quiet, the child’s song bumping against my dim confusion. I kept hearing my voice say “I really want to fuck you,” hearing “fuck” as if it were made of glass and rag and kerosene, a little bomb in my possession. Without agreement, Annabelle had dismissed sex, disowned her wonderful “fucking,” and I didn’t know where that left me.

• • •

When my first son was born, I sent out the announcements, and soon Annabelle called. We lived a country apart, her Cape, my Rocky Mountains. I couldn’t remember how long it had been since we’d seen each other, years of her kids’ stages and dogs acquired and divergent tastes formed. Her eldest was in first grade, her twins out of babyhood. As before, she knew vastly more than I did.

“Peter and I were talking,” she said with determined pleasure. I could picture the engaged face, and with a tiny excitement I sensed I’d recaptured her interest. “We wondered if you would like a very big box of pears or a very little box of steaks.” I stuttered, could find no comment. “What would you like, dear Susanna?” She meant to celebrate, but my mind was stiff with distress at what I’d done by becoming someone’s mother. I knew Annabelle wouldn’t get this, her own right family habits secure enough to make her sure of her many roles. Pears, steaks; big, little. Annabelle’s choices, when I was feeble with exhaustion. I sought the answer she wanted, wanted to be what she wanted, and then didn’t give a shit.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Now, come on, sugarfoot, what do you want?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well. You tell us when you do.” The warmth was gone, as if my not choosing was intended to wound her. I’ve failed her, I thought; my home, I felt, was already stuffed with failure. Suddenly formal, we said a strange good-bye.

• • •

A couple of years ago Annabelle called out of the blue and plunged us into our impressive conversation of novels, criticism, exhibits, her need to know, my compulsion to tell, our respective passions reinforced. We were guided by the terms of the youthful friendship.

“And your father,” she said. “Is he well?” He was well, had never succumbed to the possible emergencies of his health. “He must be terribly proud of your book? Is he?”

“Oh, Annabelle, ha. He told me I’d written The Magic Flute.” I was flat with this. My father hadn’t mentioned the contents of the memoir as he pointed out parallels of operatic structure. He congratulated himself devilishly on the genius of his interpretation.

Annabelle was ebullient. “How wonderful, Susanna. Don’t you see? He compared you to Mozart.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

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Table of Contents

She Matters 1

Young

Women Are Like This 23

Real Friends 34

Facebook 42

Proctor Duties 47

The Root Cellar 54

Aware

Roommate 71

Homesick 82

Annabelle Upstairs 92

Blind Date 104

Evidence 112

Within Reach 125

Kindling 132

Awake

We Turn into Mothers 145

Orphan Girl 165

Naked 180

Boundaries 190

Ritual 210

Real Estate 221

The Four Seasons 231

As We Both Know 239

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2013

    My closest friend from childhood died recently, suddenly and tra

    My closest friend from childhood died recently, suddenly and tragically, and I purchased this book, thinking the stories would help with my grieving. I think it's a beautiful celebration of friendship as well as an honest portrait of how women can both love AND wound each other. To honor my friend, I've been giving this book to my other close friends with the message of "you matter to me."

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2013

    Best thing about the book is the cover picture

    I had hoped to love and share this book with my friends but I was very disappointed. The writer was whiney and never seemed to get past the injustices done to her by the "friends" of which she wrote. I kept expecting her to have an epiphany about friendships or at least herself. If she did at the end it wasn't apparent. If I had borrowed this book instead of bought it I would not have finished it. I kept hoping it would get better. It didn't.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews

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