A trinity of girls sneaks into my sleeping brain on a regular basis, reminding me of the betrayals and cruelties of adolescence. Traci, who trailed after me like a pudgy shadow; Allison, who metamorphosed from best friend to bully; and Sarah, whose presence made me swoon and whose withdrawal felt like death. The first-person tales in The Friend Who Got Away dwell on these kinds of severed friendships—a theme rarely considered perky enough to take center stage in boy-crazy chick-lit novels. But as Francine Prose points out in the introduction to this uneven but immensely enjoyable collection, female relationships are often as tempestuous and life altering as romantic entanglements, leaving indelible marks on our nascent identities.
Many of these stories suggest a guilty reckoning with youthful selves: Katie Roiphe’s essay is as much an attempt to conjure up her own teenage persona as a depiction of her falling out with her glamorous college friend Stella, and Nicole Keeter writes of her caginess toward Gina, the only other black girl at their elementary school. Dorothy Allison is one of the only contributors to honestly address the physical chemistry of friendship, remembering a time in her life when the line between sexual and platonic affairs was thrillingly blurry. But some of the most painful pieces here are those rooted in adulthood, such as Kate Bernheimer’s account of growing alienated from her friends after her miscarriages, or the rift between Vivian Gornick and a pal over mundane things like “my lack of interest in her children, hers in my loneliness.”