August 13, 2010 at 2:20 pm , by Lisa M. Gerry
In Sally Koslow’s third novel, With Friends Like These, four women—Quincy, Talia, Chloe, and Jules—struggle to maintain their ten-year friendship. Some have babies, some don’t. Some have money, some don’t. Some have happy marriages, some…not so much. But those differences haven’t seemed to matter until now—when what the women thought were lifelong loyalties are betrayed.
What do you consider to be the central message of With Friends Like These?
It’s that friendship is fragile. And it gets increasingly complex as our lives become more complicated. It’s somewhat more straightforward when we’re in our twenties, but as our lives progress we have partners, children, financial constraints, ambition and professional rivalry. We would like to be able to do the right thing by our friends, but sometimes our more immediate goal is pleasing our families.
Was there one character you most related to?
I put parts of myself, people in my imagination, as well as little tiny molecules of people I’ve known in my real life into all four women. I tried to draw on my better and worse parts to create four characters that were realistically flawed. I don’t think there are any villainesses here. While a reader might relate to one more than others, I tried very hard to come up with situations that reflect real dilemmas people face.
Because two of the characters ultimately betray their best friends, some critics may say these women reinforce some of the negative stereotypes about women—the back stabbing and cattiness. How would you respond to that?
Well, I think that stereotypes come out of truth, and I think that life is not all Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Women are no worse than the other gender when it comes to looking out for themselves. I feel this book is a pretty accurate portrayal, but I would urge readers to read to the very end because it’s about forgiveness and regrets. We do often live with a lot of regret, and I think that when we’re 25 years old or even 35 years old we might think that if we lose a friend, there’s somebody else to replace that person. And that’s simply not the case. Sometimes you have a whole phantom limb where that friend used to be—and you feel that for the rest of your life. To a certain extent the book’s a cautionary tale.
Do you have close female friends that you draw from?
I do. I have a very large circle of friends. I think, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve valued these friendships more. I have two children—they’re grown up now—and I’ve made wonderful friends as a mother. And I’ve made some terrific friends through writing workshops.
Books written about female characters by female authors often get called “chick lit.” What’s your feeling about that label?
I just finished reading a novel that is the male version of chick lit. It was Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You. It was hilarious. It was witty. It was tender. If it had been written by a woman it would have been called chick lit because the character spent a considerable amount of time describing his body—obsessing over how his shoulders weren’t broad enough—and he had lots of observations about the opposite sex. When these subjects are written by a woman, the book tends to go into a pink ghetto called chick lit. But I don’t care what my books are called. There are a lot of books that have been written about “friends fatales.” Look at Jane Austen and Edith Wharton.
Do you have any rituals when you write?
I always write really well after I’ve gone running. And when I’m trying to work something through, I carry around a note pad. I try to be a fly on the wall of my own life. That’s why a lot of shy people turn into good writers, because they’re not always the person in the room who’s talking, they’re the person in the room who’s listening.
What advice would you give someone who wants to write a novel?
Join a writing workshop. You have to kind of sniff out which one you feel is the best for you. The other thing is start to paying more attention when you read. Try to read beyond plot, and try to figure out the structure and style.
What authors do you admire?
I’ve always loved everything by Edith Wharton. I just think that she’s wonderful. I’d like to start rereading some authors from the 1960s because I’ve become such a Mad Men fanatic. I would like to reread Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar. I think Jennifer Weiner is a very funny writer. She’s hilarious and makes some astute observations. I think she stands out in the field that people refer to as chick lit. I just enjoyed reading Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, the memoir by Rhoda Janzen. I thought that was funny. I love when someone can bring levity to a really tough subject, so any author who can do that, I usually enjoy.
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