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Book of the week: She Matters: A Life in Friendships by Susanna Sonnenberg
Susanna Sonnenberg's new memoir will inspire many readers to recall, weigh, and salute the friendships that have shaped them.
 

(Scribner, $24) 

“Friendship between women generally is not easy,” said Emily Rapp in The Boston Globe. In her “occasionally uneven” but “remarkably written” new memoir, the writer Susanna Sonnenberg makes sure we know this by examining numerous of her female friendships that fell apart or flamed out. But even among her enduring comrades—the ones recognizable to readers as the kind who end up guiding each of us through life—“there are no pure or magical muses.” Unsparing honesty is one of Sonnenberg’s core traits, and her “exquisitely rendered” portraits of her many friends allow us to see them whole, in all their guises—“feisty, edgy, problematic, fantastic, sexy, ambitious, secretive, neurotic, playful, intelligent, big-hearted, and fierce.” So vivid are they that we come to recognize that a friend is a type of mirror by which we come to recognize ourselves.

Yet this book “wouldn’t have been interesting at all” without its candid accounts of the train wrecks, said Meg Wolitzer in NPR.org. A friendship is rarely a simple mutual-support mechanism, and the author is hyperalert to “the boundary issues that can crop up between friends and ruin everything.” One friend cuts Sonnenberg out of her life with an email “that has the bluntness of a wartime telegram.” Another friendship falls victim to the ministrations of Sonnenberg’s reckless mother, who during a college parents’ weekend destroys a bond between roommates by revealing to the other young woman’s parents that their little girl has become sexually active. Sonnenberg never makes herself out to be a victim of other women’s capriciousness, freely admitting that she’s lost friends because she’s clingy and overly blunt. But her honesty makes a reader think more deeply about what friends do owe one another, and why.

Sonnenberg can at times be “exasperating,” said Susan Chira in The New York Times. This book would have been stronger if “edited more tightly”: For all of its “arresting” prose, it goes on too long and can feel narcissistic. But She Matters will inspire many readers to undertake an inventory of their own to recall, weigh, and salute the friendships that have shaped them. To pay those friends as grand a tribute as Sonnenberg has paid hers, they’ll have to be tough on themselves. “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.”

 

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