Book tip: "The Friend" by Sigrid Nunez

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The Friend

Sigrid Nunez

The Merrill House folks have always done a fine job of selecting the authors who are honored with Writer-in-Residence fellowships. Sigrid Nunez, for example, is a superb novelist. But probably not even the late Robert Merrill, who reportedly used a Ouija board, could have forecast that Nunez would win a National Book Award WHILE SHE WAS IN RESIDENCE at the Merrill House for her wonderful novel "The Friend." On the surface, the story is a melancholy and wistful love note from the unnamed narrator to a friend who recently committed suicide. The structure expands cleverly and pointedly as both these characters are/were established writers in the Manhattan literary scene, and the protagonist's anecdotes, observations and historical asides are at once snarky jibes about the realities of publishing as well as astonishing short portraits of the lives and works of great writers of yore. Tying all this together is that the narrator inherits her late friend's Great Dane Apollo and must acclimate herself to the reality of living with a giant dog in her 500-square-foot walk-up. By nature a cat person, she gradually adapts to the presence of the animal — who is indeed mourning the loss of his master, as well — and their evolving and therapeutic relationship becomes a gorgeous meditation on the magical bonds between dogs and people. This book explores so many nuances of life, aging and our times in remarkable and beautifully eloquent ways.

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