The friends who shape us
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, January 2013
For fans of searingly honest memoirs, the publication of Susanna Sonnenberg’s She Matters is a cause for celebration. Sonnenberg’s previous book, Her Last Death, explored her tumultuous relationship with her provocative and ultimately destructive mother. This book turns to more nurturing, though occasionally heartbreaking, women in Sonnenberg’s life: her friends.
Comprised of 20 short essays, Sonnenberg’s book discusses all kinds of friendships—those that ended well, ended badly, ended mysteriously or (occasionally) continue today. Her Rolodex of friends includes a writer, a painter, a stay-at-home mom, a rabbi and a massage therapist. I can only imagine what her friends must have thought when they found themselves drawn by her pen; but for readers, the rewards are rich. The book’s honesty, eloquence, laugh-out-loud humor, finely wrought prose and magnificent scope will keep readers eagerly turning the pages.
The Sonnenberg who closes the book is not the same woman we meet on page one. Because the essays are arranged chronologically, readers learn how major life decisions—from embracing motherhood to moving to Montana, from becoming a writer to working in an abortion clinic—have shaped the way she chooses and fosters her friendships. We see how time and change impacted some of her oldest relationships. Given this benefit of space and reflection, Sonnenberg adds asides that deepen some of the early stories. “Had I paid attention,” she says of one friend, “she would have shown me a first real lesson in grief, its disorganizing confusions, its inescapable solitude.”
One of the many things to appreciate about this book is its refusal to bundle each friendship into a neat bow. Instead, these memorable and lovely essays gesture to the real-life intricacies of relationships. They celebrate the many pleasures of knowing and being known. For readers who welcome a complex perspective beautifully rendered in writing, this book is not to be missed.