On Friendship: Juliana Leite and Devon Geyelin Recommend


The Review’s Review

Friendship bracelets, Ra’ike, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m interested in stories that gently erase the boundaries between love and friendship, featuring characters who shuffle the two feelings in unexpected ways. I like narratives that navigate contradictions and do away with false binaries, illustrating the complexity of what we humans call intimacy. Who is really capable of drawing a hard boundary between feelings? My story in the Summer issue of the Review, “My Good Friend,” follows two elderly friends who have shared a lifetime of friendship right in the neighborhood of romance. For these two old folks, friendship is the mountain one climbs to reach a deeper viewpoint on love.

Simone de Beauvoir’s novel The Inseparables, about the friendship between two young girls, Sylvie and Andrée, is one of the many gems I’ve encountered. Based on de Beauvoir’s own passionate friendship that began in youth, with a girl named Zaza, the book was written five years after she published The Second Sex, and it’s clear how the feelings born from that friendship structured her personality and helped to shape even her philosophical interests. “Nothing so interesting had ever happened to me,” Sylvie says of the first time she met Andrée. “It suddenly seemed as if nothing had ever happened to me at all.”

Young Sylvie wants to express this feeling somehow, to tell her friend about the transformation that has happened inside her. On Andrée’s thirteenth birthday, Sylvie carefully and anxiously sews a silk purse by hand as a gift, hoping it will tell her friend something that words can’t quite. Sylvie hands the bag to Andrée and, seeing her astonishment, she has the impression that something would have happened between them, maybe a tender kiss, had it not been for the presence of their mothers.

Together they become teenagers, and Andrée, the more extroverted of the pair, begins a little romance with a boy against her mother’s wishes. Sylvie starts to feel jealous before she even knows the name of the feeling. Andrée is forced to admit to her mother that, yes, she had kissed the boy, she had kissed him because she loved him. She later tells Sylvie, who is overcome by complete shock: “I lowered my head. Andrée was unhappy and the idea of it was unbearable. But her unhappiness was so foreign to me; the kind of love where you kiss had no truth for me.” After a few pages we realize that a kiss is something of a metric of passion for the two young girls, the naive way in which they measure the beginnings of love even as they wrestle with the ambiguity of their own relationship.

Simone and Zaza eventually left home for their studies—literature for Zaza, philosophy for Simone—and they reported life’s many novelties, love stories, and discoveries in careful letters to each other. In one of her letters to Zaza, de Beauvoir wrote, “Every page is always bliss, happiness in bigger and bigger lettering. And I love you more than ever at this moment, dear past, dear present, my inseparable darling.” This was the last letter between the two. Zaza died prematurely of an illness, and de Beauvoir would always carry with her the gift of this precious love for a friend. Like a silent river flowing beneath the papers and theories that would influence all Western thinking, there Zaza was with Simone. Zaza and a friendship’s love.

—Juliana Leite, author of “My Good Friend

On a recent drive home from Knoxville to Nashville, I started listening to Sadurn’s album from last year, Radiator. It was very exciting because I liked it a lot, and I listened to a lot of Sadurn over the next few months. The band’s main singer and songwriter, g, can make their voice take very casual steps up and down in pitch, like on the song “dirt may,” specifically the version on the EP Sadurn / Ther Split. The song contains a moment in which g sings the word hear with at least six syllables, which is one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard, and which is responsible for the many times I’ve listened to it on repeat. 

According to the EP’s bandcamp page, Sadurn / Ther Split was “recorded on a 50 year old tape machine in a basement in West Philadelphia, Winter Solstice of 2018.” Sadurn shares the EP with a producer and musician named Heather Jones, who sometimes records as Ther. I did not initially like Ther’s songs on the EP. But later on I tried again, and found two things: that two of these songs (“advil” and “april in paris”) have some of the sweetest lyrics I’ve heard, even if I don’t totally understand them—are they about siblings? childhood friends?—and also, though the songs are attributed only to Ther, g’s voice is in the background, taking those steps that mean so much to me. The unnamed almost-duet feels very personal, very friendly, and again strikingly beautiful, even though at first I found the whole thing grating, maybe unpleasant, and potentially terrible. The internet says their friend Jon Cox was also present on guitar for many of the songs, though I didn’t know to recognize him.

All this reminded me of my friend Gwen, who always reads my writing. Recently I sent her something longish, and she sent me a picture of it printed out, most likely from the printer-fax-copier at the office where I used to work and where she still does. Although she might not be formally credited in any final version of the long thing, if there is a final version, she will be very much present within it, the same way she is in many things I have written, as are Anya, Nicole, Oliver, Sophie, and others. I feel like my creative ambitions shifted about two years ago, when I figured out or decided that my greatest artistic joy would most likely always be emailing my writing to people I like a lot, receiving their writing in return, and later talking about our drafts, or at least communicating via Google Docs comments. I like to think that all the people whose art I love are really just messing around with their friends, and sometimes a product emerges later, really like a postmortem on “one time we hung out and did this together,” and likely by now we’re all doing other things. 

—Devon Geyelin