This time next week, GUTS will post the second instalment of Reading Alone Together, a short story reading series led by Esmé Hogeveen, an English student living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Over the next few months, friends, strangers, teachers, artists, thinkers and hopefully, one day, maybe even you, will contribute to a discussion on a selection of short stories.
by Esmé Hogeveen
Next week, for the second instalment of Reading Alone Together, I will be interviewing Frances Platt Law about “The Friend,” a short story by Elizabeth Hay.
Hay is a Canadian fiction author (her novel, Late Nights on Air won the 2007 Giller Prize), who cut her writing teeth as a CBC Radio broadcaster. “The Friend” comes from her 1997 short story collection, Small Change, which engages the manifold threads of female friendship.
I recently came across “The Friend” in The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories, edited by Jane Urquhart. I was mesmerized by the relationship Hay portrays between the narrator, Beth, and her friend, Maureen. Throughout the story, Beth reflects on the complicated nature of loving a friend, who maybe doesn’t always love herself. As a twenty-three year old, I was fascinated by the relationship between two women in their thirties and forties, whose friendship helps them cope with mature issues (a failing marriage, motherhood, health problems, etc.), while also giving them an outlet into the intensity of young female friendship. Beth describes her relationship with Maureen as being “a throwback to girlhood, the sort of miracle that occurs when you find a friend with whom you can talk about everything,” and yet their friendship is tested by distinctly adult dilemmas.
For next week’s interview, Frances and I will be puzzling out some of the more obtuse passages in the story and examining the arc of Beth and Maureen’s friendship, as well as considering the implications of the story’s retrospective tone.
If you get a chance to look at the story before then**, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Do you think Beth is a good friend to Maureen?
- Do you think Maureen is a good friend to Beth?
- What is the significance of Maureen’s beauty and the way it haunts Beth (i.e. thinking about Beth’s description of pulling Maureen’s long hairs off herself and her daughter all weekend, or when she imagines the moon as Maureen’s face)?
- Is there any connection between Maureen’s husband’s lover, Henry, and Beth? Do they represent similar outlets for Maureen and Danny, or are their roles vastly different?
- What is going on in the scene when Beth says: “I saw [Maureen] go up in flames, or did I wish it?”?
- Do you think Beth and Maureen’s friendship has any future, or are we meant to interpret the ending of the story as the absolute conclusion of their relationship?
- Does “The Friend” portray a “healthy” friendship?
**Here is a link to the google books version of the story, but if you prefer a PDF, please send me an email esmehogeveen (at) gmail (dot) com.