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The Friend


The Friend

Humans undeniably experience grief over the loss of a loved one. So how about dogs? Is their grief any less intense? We know that they mourn, but do they go through stages like we do? What helps them get beyond their feelings of despair?

An elderly Great Dane finds himself orphaned after his master dies and the widow doesn’t want him. A friend agrees to take him in. Apollo, though, is huge, even for a Dane, and the woman’s apartment is tiny. Besides, it’s up five flights of stairs. And in a building with a no-dogs rule. So both the woman and the dog have more to deal with than simply the loss of their mutual friend. As if that weren’t enough on its own. Apollo quietly sets about working through his pain. The woman observes closely, and tries to understand, while also trying to gain solace from the dog. She’s a writer, so she has a naturally curious nature. This means she also has many questions about her friend’s death, questions that threaten to derail her if she can’t find suitable answers. The man left them too suddenly.

"THE FRIEND is not an easy book to read, emotionally, but it will touch you in myriad ways."

Bound by their grief, woman and dog become inseparable, almost to the point of obsession. Her friends begin to worry that this may be unhealthy. In their efforts to be helpful, they approach her with their concern. She agrees to talk to someone, but denies there is any problem. Apollo is her responsibility, and her new friend. They need each other for support. As the time passes and the two become closer, the woman starts to fret about Apollo’s age. He is slowing down, losing mobility and energy. That’s the trouble with dogs; their lifespan is so much shorter than ours. She can’t bear the thought of losing Apollo, too. Experiencing loss has been a painful thing for her. Excruciating, in fact. How will she survive it again?

Sigrid Nunez’s latest novel explores how one woman copes with losing her closest friend. As with most of us, she doesn’t handle it very well. Having a massive dog thrust upon her complicates her life, at a time least convenient. Naturally, she wants to honor her friend’s wishes that she care for Apollo, but it’s quite an imposition. How could he think it would work? As the woman deals with her sadness and her memories of her friend, she lets her mind ramble wildly. Being a writer, she allows herself to recall vignettes and quotes by authors she’s studied and read over the years.

Maybe this brings her a sort of peace. Maybe it’s her connection to her dead friend, a writing teacher, and her mentor. But sometimes it seems like stream of consciousness --- random thoughts being put on the page. And her thoughts tend to run toward the dark side. It is probably best that her friend left the Great Dane to her. Otherwise, she likely would have fallen completely apart. She might have been unable to move beyond her grief without Apollo. THE FRIEND is not an easy book to read, emotionally, but it will touch you in myriad ways.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on February 9, 2018

The Friend
by Sigrid Nunez

  • Publication Date: February 5, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 0735219451
  • ISBN-13: 9780735219458