November 10, 2014
So here I am, still in the hospital, and still wedded to my habit of reading only books I have read (and loved) before. But for the moment, I have strayed from the F&M line-up, and am happily wallowing in A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson’s marvelous tale of his attempts – successful and otherwise – to hike the Appalachian Trail. I’m a city girl, born and bred, so the Nature Stuff is, frankly, of limited interest to me. What I love about this book, what keeps me reading it again and again, is the relationship between Bryson – middle-aged, with a gut and a wheeze and a taste for niceties like flush toilets, and his pal Katz, who makes Bryson look svelte and fit and low-maintenance. Katz, whose idea of how to pack for an epic journey in the wildness involves many cartons of Little Debbie snack cakes. Katz, who essentially defines the term “pain in the butt.” Katz, who has known Bryson since the two of them represented the entire teenage Bad Element of the state of Iowa, and who therefore represents both a kind and a degree of friendship that cannot be gainsaid by any amount of stupid packing, irritating behavior, or flatulence. I love many things about this book, but most of all I love its hymn to friendship – a relationship that fiction too often overlooks, I think, in favor of the glamor of romance and the meatiness of the parent-child bond.
Sadly, we can’t offer a discount on Mr. Bryon’s work, but the thought did send me looking through our list, to see what we have to say about friendship. I thought first about Anna Blundy’s sharp punch of a story, The Bad News Bible, in that the death of one friend sends another on a quest. It’s a wonderful book – and in fact, I can’t wait to reread it – but in honor of Katz, I wanted something where the friendship is a living thing. So the Valentine and Lovelace series it is, because as many of your female friends will tell you, great friendships don’t get a whole lot greater than those between straight women and their gay best friends. Michael McDowell, who wrote the series with his friend Dennis Schuetz, very consciously based it on the “Thin Man” moves starring Myrna Loy and William Powell. The books are set in Boston and environs in the early 1980s, but they nevertheless do a tremendous job of channeling that glorious “Thin Man” ethos where the wit sparkles as deliciously as the champagne, the martinis are cold, the music is hot, and one solves crimes because really, darling, one can only drive around in fabulous cars so many hours of the day. True, the protagonists of “The Thin Man” are married, but it’s a very swanky, sexless sort of marriage – and very much like the swanky, sexless friendship between Daniel Valentine and Clarisse Lovelace, both of whom would look great in satin piped pajamas. It’s a massive stretch, I know, from Clarisse and Valentine (much less from Powell and Loy) to Bryson and Katz…but it isn’t really. Because the thing about friendship is, it may take many different shapes, may be giddy or reserved or centered around burping contests, but at bottom, if it’s there…it’s there. Robert Frost famously said that home is where, when you go there, they have take you in. I’d suggest that a friend is who, when you call them, they come out – in a snowstorm, at 4 in the morning, kvetching all the way – and drive you there. This week only, 25% off on all four of the delightful Valentine and Lovelace books, and in the hope that you all have at least one such good friend. And if I may, it comes complete with a shout-out to the wonderful friends of mine who kept me such good company while I’ve been laid up. I’m a lucky woman.