Reading guide for The Friend Who Got Away by Jenny Offill, Elissa Schappell

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The Friend Who Got Away

by Jenny Offill, Elissa Schappell

The Friend Who Got Away
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  • First Published:
    May 2005, 320 pages
    May 2006, 320 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. The Friend Who Got Away's epigraph comes from Virginia Woolf who wrote a great deal about the intricacies of human relationships. What does she seem to be saying about the nature of friendship?

  2. Why do we assume friendships should be "sturdier" than romantic relationships? What expectations do we bring to a friendship that we don't bring to a romance? Are these realistic? Why or why not?

  3. Most of the friendships in the book center on the relationships between women. Could the same book have been written about friendships between men? Are these friendships built on similar or different foundations? Is one more enduring than the other?

  4. One of the premises of the book is that these stories about lost friends are incredibly common yet seldom revealed. Why do you think such secrecy surrounds this issue? Is there shame involved when a friendship fails?

  5. Many of the writers in this anthology speak to the difficulty of unraveling what led to the demise of their friendships. Why is it so difficult to assess blame and responsibility in these situations? Which essays most clearly address this problem of culpability?

  6. In the paired essays "Heather" and "Emily" we get a rare glimpse of the story of a friendship breakup from both points of views. In the other essays, were you able to imagine the absent friend's side of the story as well? Did you ever find yourself empathizing more with the lost friend than the author?

  7. In Emily White's "Shelter" and Ann Hood's "How I Lost Her", we never learn why the friends disappear so abruptly. Imagine their side of the story.

  8. Jenny Offill's "End Days" and Elissa Schappell's "You'll Be Alright" both describe unlikely friendships. Why might such a friendship be a source of comfort? Jennifer Gilmore's "The Kindness of Strangers" goes even further to suggest that sometimes strangers are able to provide more solace in times of crisis than old friends. Why might this be the case?

  9. The old saying "Neither a borrower nor a lender be" seems to apply to the friendship Mary Morris describes in "The Other Face". How does money affect the power dynamic in a relationship? Do you agree with Morris' choice not to return the painting? Why do you think her friend didn't cash the checks?

  10. Kate Bernheimer's essay explores the pain and isolation that she felt when her friends were able to bear children and she was not. Why might fertility or the lack thereof be a divisive issue among women?

  11. This anthology captures a range of friendships that span from childhood to old age. How have your friendships changed over the years? Was there a "golden age" of friendship?

  12. What role does friendship play in your life now? Are your friendships as high a priority as they once were? In your own life do you have "a friend who got away" or a friend you now realize you should have cut loose? Describe what happened.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Broadway Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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