In Emily Gould's 'Friendship,' Going Head-On With the Internet, Brooklyn, and Growing Up
If the Internet can bring a writer stardom, it can also be responsible for her downfall. It's a media pattern growing in the expanding world of sort-of-celebrity Internet writers. With it often comes the wrath of commenters, writers of viral pieces, and trolls — which can include anything from marriage proposals to death threats (which, strangely, are directed almost exclusively towards women writers).
Case in point: Emily Gould. When readers aren't focusing on her less likable "Gawker-era" persona, they're busy wondering if Gould's ability as an author will successfully carry from the online world to the print one. While Gould has recently contributed an essay to the panic-inducing MFA vs. NYC and has a personal essay collection, And The Heart Says Whatever, under her belt, Friendship is positioned to be her biggest break into the print world so far. Even if what draws readers to Friendship is their insatiable desire to equate author with her characters, Gould writes with the visible intention of getting them to see her as an established author who is ready to leave her tempestuous reputation behind.
In Friendship, the titular bond is between Amy, an astoundingly selfish has-been blogger/cat owner now working at a less-trafficked site with a "modern Jewish angle" and Bev, a quietly jealous, pushover grad-school dropout who recently lost the kind of feigned stability a serious relationship provides. These characters are defined by a series of engaging and momentarily monumental distractions — they're not after stable jobs or rosy futures. Amy realizes this after having an affair with a married man:
As she drifted between states of consciousness, a thought kept repeating: the uncomfortable realization that despite all the adventure of the past few hours, her circumstances had not changed at all.
Readers get the sense that Bev and Amy are the types to arrive late to everything, but always have a really good excuse. Millennials will find Bev and Amy familiar, empathetic, and almost comforting self-portraits — anyone else will find the characters selfish, entitled, and apathetic (everything for which Millennials get criticized). It's hard, at times, to be certain if Gould is writing from a critical stance or if she is just trying to paint as accurate a picture of her world as possible. She writes Amy with a certain degree of palpable disdain, and perhaps shame, yet readers can't help but cheer for her, despite her seeming inability to do anything other than wait for something more interesting to happen.
Gould's characters have an intense fear of going backwards in their lives, which often blocks them from moving forward. Gould writes of Amy:
All her problems could be solved in a second if she simply apologized to everyone she'd offended and asked for one or the other of her old jobs back ... Either way, it would be like going back in time.
There is an impetus for change in their lives, which the characters do confront: one example of this is Bev's unexpected pregnancy. The way she waffles back and forth between wanting an abortion and feeling former religious and personal guilt about the situation illustrates that although Gould's characters are certainly curious about adulthood, they aren't quite ready for it.
The plot of the novel itself is engrossing because it's relatable, and reading can feel like scrolling through tumblr. Friendship is not a particularly challenging novel, but peppered with references to kale and Williamsburg's Roebling Tea Room, it's easy for readers to place themselves inside the world of the book. Much of the characters' days are spent discussing "what happened on the Internet," lost in Netflix marathons, or gchatting about the incompetence of coworkers. Will Friendship be relevant, or even comprehensible, however, with these constant references to current television shows and favorite brunch spots in a few years? Still, Friendship fits the current, if not depressing and self-deprecating, mould of how many young women are portrayed or choose to portray themselves — so perhaps the novel will be best seen by future readers as a portrait of the Millennial confusion of New York City's twentysomethings.
Although plenty of people will dismiss Gould without bothering to read Friendship — such is the shape of Internet celebrity — she has still managed to create complicated characters that prove she is capable of silencing her critics. The book is most compelling as a tongue-in-cheek criticism of Gould's former life, but that can also make it hard to view the book as its author's attempt to move on. Still, the events of the novel are easy to invest in, and Gould is a highly entertaining, if not jarringly casual, writer. Gould wins this round with Friendship.
Image: Lisa Corson