Elevate Difference

With Friends Like These

Sally Koslow’s With Friends Like These is mostly predictable. The main characters—a group of four women who are each others’ best friends—are often caricatures, and there is nothing terribly new or innovative about the story. Still, I didn’t dislike the book (except for the ending, which was terribly trite) and may even read it again.

Why, you may ask, would I reread a book I just called trite and predictable? What Koslow's book does manage to show, if imperfectly, and not always believably, is a group of girlfriends who forge friendships that span young adulthood to real grown-up-hood. Moreover, these women hurt each other. They fail to respond to each others’ needs. They mess up. They even have a hard time forgiving one another.

We need more stories about friendships that are imperfect, that do not meet all of our needs all the time, and that grow and wane and shift and stretch and learn to accommodate. As girls and women, we need stories about friendships with women that are resilient enough to bear criticism, pain, and cruelty—as well as happiness, praise, and kindness. Although Koslow’s characters sometimes appear to have been pulled from some bin of clichés, Koslow does not shy away from depicting anger, disappointment, hurt feelings, and grudge-holding. Although the ending is too neat and slightly purple, the mere fact that Koslow points to reconciliations that do not depend upon forgetting a hurtful past should earn her points for trying.

As feminists, and inheritors to pro-woman social action, it can be very difficult for women to develop healthy ways of being critical of one another. Being critical of women is often (mis)interpreted as not supporting women, as not supporting women’s choices, as being anti-woman, anti-feminist, or anti-equality. It can be easier to quietly drop a friendship than to tell a friend, “You really screwed things up between us and I am really, really angry and hurt by your actions.” Telling a woman she’s screwed up doesn’t fit into certain conceptions of feminism (as I am learning), or perhaps it is better to say that it rests in a panicked tension with certain conceptions of feminism.

This is why I enjoyed With Friends Like These. It shows women who aren’t afraid to screw up, who are afraid to admit they’ve screwed up, who are held responsible but don’t want to be held responsible, and who eventually learn that being a grown-up and being a real friend both entail confidence, vulnerability, humility, and compromise. I hope that one day I can have friends as “fake” as these—who will tell me I messed up when I mess up and who will, eventually, love me anyway.

Written by: kristina grob, October 21st 2010