A few months ago, as I am wont to do, I shared an article about the end of a friendship on my Facebook page and someone commented, asking what motivated me to share such articles and whether I'd experienced something similar.
The answer, of course, is complicated. The prose was gorgeous and the article moved me. That's why I shared it. But also, I don't think you can get to your mid-30s and not experience difficulties with friendship at some point. I am no exception.
What matters is how you respond. Either you work through it together, ignore it as resentment piles up, or one or both of you decide to walk away.
This is why I'm drawn to books and articles about friendship. I like to see how other people approach friendship. It reminds me of the friends I've had for years upon years and the ones who meant something for a season and then those few who are purposefully no longer part of my life.
When I first heard about Deborah Shapiro's The Sun In Your Eyes, I was intrigued. It's rare to find novels where friendship takes the center stage.
Lee Parish is the daughter of a dead rock star and his model/fashion designer wife. She is magnetic and alluring and she knows it. Vivian Feld knows nothing of Lee's world when they first meet in college but meeting Lee brings Viv to life. They are roommates with Andy, who is in love with Lee, and it is clear from the start that won't end well.
The novel shifts between when they first meet and years later after a three year break in contact. Viv and Andy are now married. Her friendship with Lee has drifted away when Lee resurfaces with a proposition: help her find her dad's last recordings, tapes which disappeared the day of his accident.
Viv has every reason to say no and yet she is swept back into Lee's thrall and a road trip ensues.
The power dynamic between the two is compelling. Who is using who? Are they more equal than either think? The time apart has given both a chance to reflect about their relationship. (We experience more of Viv's perspective in the first half and some of Lee's perspective in the second.) As we learn about how they first met and the circumstances that strengthened their bond, it becomes clear that for all their closeness, there are parts of each other they do not know or understand.
In the years since, as they've dealt with their respective life choices, they are still tethered to each other.
"She was often still the one I wanted to talk to, not simply out of habit, but because if she were listening, if she knew about it, whatever it was would be more interesting, more significant. I wavered between believing she felt the same way- how could she not?- and sensing that I was deceiving myself. If she'd really wanted or needed to talk to me, she would have. But it couldn't be that simple, I thought. Our relationship wasn't that simple. No, she must have wanted to talk to me but couldn't bring herself to do so precisely because it wasn't that simple and she trusted me to understand that. Unless our relationship really was that simple for her? She had left me with a mystery I tried to solve with circuitous thinking. It was a way to keep her present." p. 49
As I read, I wavered between thinking Lee manipulated everyone around her to whether they had a co-dependent relationship to how Viv benefitted from her relationship with Lee. There were no easy answers. Even when the characters made choices with which I vehemently disagreed.
At its heart, The Sun In Your Eyes is about the ups and downs of friendship and whether we can see another person clearly. I'm not entirely sure we as readers should judge the nature or health of Lee and Viv's friendship. We are changed by the people we befriend. At times, this blinds us to their faults- and we benefit when we are on the receiving end of this.
Those three years of silence gave Lee and Viv the gift of perspective. Very rarely can I see my friendships in a stark light, even when navigating through conflict. The intimacy a friendship requires is complex and dazzling. We should be in awe of our friends. We should be their confidantes and cheerleaders and teachers. And they should be the same for us. When there isn't such reciprocity, cracks and splinters will emerge, as Lee and Viv ultimately learn. But even then, the path forward is not often clear.
Shapiro's debut novel impressed me for the ways she welcomed us into Lee and Viv's world and showed us its nuances and heft. It is at once a gracious and incising portrayal. Neither character is demonized but nor are they idealized and idolized. In other words, they are you and me. While I don't have any friends like Lee and Viv, their portrayal gave me hope about the state of female friendship because no matter how they leave things, it shows why women need each other. And we do need each other.
The Sun In Your Eyes is a lovely and worthwhile addition to the friendship canon.
About Deborah Shapiro
Deborah Shapiro was born and raised outside of Boston, Massachusetts. A graduate of Brown University, she spent several years in New York working at magazines, including New York and ELLE, and her work has been published in Open City, Washington Square Review, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among other places. She lives with her husband and son in Chicago. The Sun in Your Eyes is her first novel. Follow Deborah on Twitter.
Disclosure: I was provided a free copy of this book from TLC Book Reviews but it did not influence my opinion. Affiliate links included in this post. Any purchase you make helps support this site.