Now that my second published novel is due out this month I’ve gone back to a manuscript I started a few years ago. It’s all about five friends. I’ve been polishing and rereading chapter after chapter and coming to the satisfying conclusion that I like the book. It isn’t always that way, of course. Sometimes there is the discarded prose on a bottom shelf that must have been conjured up and written during a phase of momentary insanity. This manuscript is different, it was written during a languid phase of reminiscences – old lovers, deeply felt friendships, silky, yearning lyrics from the lips of Joni Mitchel and the gritty, witty sound of Bob Dylan’s Positively Fourth Street – all painful reminders that I will never walk that way again.
All my books are a caress of one kind or another – a caress of yesterday, remembered sunsets, too many deaths, empty spaces of people I no longer know – shadows that come from out of the darkness and materialize into form on white, empty paper. Characters who startle me with their insistence and lay themselves open to an interpretation that no longer fits, and perhaps never did.
In any case, this dusted off manuscript is about five friends who meet again after ten years, and then again, after twenty. They were originally bonded by their zealous pursuit of the theatre, having met at an acting school in the early seventies, and they are torn apart by betrayal, lies and jealousies. Their attractions for one another are youthfully myopic, unabashedly passionate, and at times, willfully cruel.
Most importantly, perhaps, is that they heal their own wounds, as well as each other’s. But the growth is not easily won and takes years to attain. It certainly could not have been accomplished if they hadn’t cared enough to reunite. The loyalties established in their youth demanded nothing less than that the remaining residue of their ties to one another flares into the fires of transitions, transformations and reestablished relationships. Writers cannot write about people who care too little, which is why literature tells the unspoken truths between us.
I have a significant other who certainly satisfies my need for friendship but we often bitch about how many people have come and gone through the revolving door of convenience, rather than commitment. We had a house in the country and we loved going because we were just a drive away from like-minded people that loved to entertain, hang out, brag about their roses, sit around on patios and drink white wine. Great Fun! But I have to use the word “friends” lightly. The only thing we could really count on was laughter, which is worth its weight in gold, but is it rust or is it real? Friends, after all, come in two sizes: Forever and Whatever.
When I think of my interpretation of friendship when I was twenty, then I would have said its like air, necessary for survival. If you asked me how I interpret friendship today I would say “fleeting and not to be expected.” I imagine I have grown up to a world that forfeits it to chance, or luck, or to internet networking sites.
In this new manuscript, my central character, Vivian Forrester refers to friendship as “that fragile thread.” I suppose she’s right. It is a fragile thread, one too often broken by indifference. We get older, we split apart and the people we knew once upon a time have become dispensable. I think I wrote this book because I am lonely for the emotionalism, the lack of middle aged defenses and the unabashed declaration of bonds and promises, even if they do get broken.
Vivian also feels as I do. She longs for the days when her inner life held more appeal than who she knew. With some amount of disappointment I have come to realize that knowing people who are perceived to be in high places buys you friendship, or the illusion of it. What is interpreted as success shrouds you with the allure of diamonds and attracts the pretensions of those who have learned to sniff out your usefulness.
I live in New York City where many people are under the false assumption that they are too busy for bonding, too absorbed and too stingy with their time to commit to more than you might expect from them, or want from them. They collect friends on My Space and Facebook and write on walls to what is essentially an absence, not present, not in the moment, not real. These absences will not give a second thought to our snippets of conversation, or tidbits of information. I don’t really care what my acquaintances write on their little walls, or even what they’re thinking on their little walls. I mean it doesn’t really matter who has a day off or where you dined the night before. It’s as if sharing a secret, developing a feeling, maintaining a relationship is far too much effort. Perhaps it’s the world we live in now. Vivian would have hated it, as I do - a thousand friends on Facebook, and still, no place to go.
My mother told me I’d be lucky if I could count my real friends on one hand. I can barely count them on three fingers! Maybe that’s why I wrote the book, my characters found a way to hold fast to relationships, without even knowing that friendship often lives more deeply in the contours of memory than in action and thrives more resolutely when nourished. For me, the bonds of friendship have broken too easily over the years. If friendship is hard then I say its worth something. Throwing it back is a conceit, holding absurd grudges is selfish. Easy come, easy go is too much of what we’ve come to expect of people. But I guess if I wasn’t writing a book about five friends who open up their hearts to one another, I’d have nothing to miss or to lament, or to grieve for.
Not sure of the pub date on this one but will keep you all posted.
About Vera Jane
Causes Vera Jane Cook Supports
Al Gore Northshore Animal League, ASPCA AIDS