Early on in Rufi Thorpe’s elegant yet intense debut novel, the narrator, Mia, makes a prescient observation: “Normally, friendships between girls are stowed away in boxes of postcards and ticket stubs, but whatever was between me and Lorrie Ann was not so easy to set aside.”

The Girls from Corona del Mar spans multiple births, deaths, continents, and love affairs as Mia does the difficult work of looking back on her friendship with Lorrie Ann, her figurative “opposite twin.” At one point, she sums up the frustration of knowing Lor: “What if I didn’t really know her? What if all those years I just saw what I expected to see, what I wanted to see? . . . Can anyone know anyone?” This novel may convince readers that as much as we love our friends, the answer is no.

"Can anyone know anyone?” This novel may convince readers that as much as we love our friends, the answer is no.

Children of a Southern California “sleepy ocean hamlet” called Corona del Mar, Mia and Lorrie Ann are lifelong friends. In contrast with Lorrie Ann, who grew up “beautiful, pure, and good” with a happy and charming family, Mia always considered herself “the bad one” with the booze-loving mother. So the narrative of their friendship goes off track when Mia is accepted to Yale and Lorrie Ann becomes pregnant, marries a high school beau, gives birth to a severely disabled son, and becomes addicted to opiates. As Mia’s own star rises as a classics scholar, she unspools the concurrent—and increasingly distant—story of her friend, which becomes more and more of a mystery. As she says, “I was given only fleeting glimpses into the labyrinth of her mind, and so was forced to piece together her inner world through inference and observation.”

Not unlike many friends, this novel takes a while to get to know; Thorpe writes descriptive and unhurried sentences, and the character of Lorrie Ann feels alternately vivid and hazy, lovable and loathsome—like Mia, the reader will constantly grasp to understand her better. However, it’s worth it to take the time to get to know The Girls from Corona del Mar and contemplate the beautiful and thorny—even agonizing—sides of friendship.

Eliza Borné is an editor at the Oxford American.

 

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