One thing I totally hate about conventional chicklit is how contrived it makes female friendship seem: packaging it in a neat box of sentimental tears and pinky swears and a bunch of women howling at the moon in unison. Joining hands in female solidarity, with not a drop of contempt nor insecurity nor jealousy between them.
Don't get me wrong - it's not like I think that female friendship is not important or life-changing. I just think that it is more complex than sharing secrets about lovers and holding each other's babies. While those things are indeed fun and even necessary at times, I want to read stories about female friends that goes far beyond these clichés. How about seeing your own self-loathing reflected in the eyes of your friends? How about the solace you find in the fact that you are not alone in the depressing day-to-day crap train that is your life? And I'm not talking here about a literary version of That's What Friends Are For with Dionne Warwick, but more She's Losing It by Belle and Sebastian. I am talking about those friendships that are few and far between, where you take comfort knowing that you are both damaged, both crazy, both walking the line between vanity and insecurity.
I love these kinds of stories - I find myself seeking them out at bookstores and the library. And I found a new one with Veronica by Mary Gaitskill. This novel follows an unlikely friendship between a 20-something has-been model and middle aged professional "temp" worker who contracts AIDS in the early days of the disease. Unlike most well-worn images of female friendships in literature, these two women are not all that sympathetic nor likeable at times. The novel mainly focuses on Alison, and her search for connection in the world. She doesn't feel as though she belongs anywhere, and this emptiness follows her for most of the novel:
page # 132: Sometimes I saw the goodwill and the deep things and longed to know them. Sometimes I saw the thrusting jaw and the bony calves and turned up my nose. Because I could never fully have either feeling, I stayed detached.
It is through her memories of her friendship with Veronica that Alison is able to crawl out of the hole of selfishnesss and detachment that had previously crippled her. Here is a story of female friendship that reveals the complexities of such relationships - they are not all beautifully-wrapped packages full of hearts and smiley emoticons. Instead, they are deeper connections that hold up a mirror to our deepest fears and insecurities, and allow us to find comfort in those reflections.
page 256: I was not saved by an innocent girl or an angel crying in heaven. I was saved by another demon, who looked on me with pity and so became human again. And because I pitied her in turn, I was allowed to become human, too.
This novel touched me in ways few have. I love the way Gaitskill can confront you with ugliness and tenderness in the same paragraph. Most highly recommended.