Love, loss, grief and a Great Dane. What’s not to love about The Friend by Sigrid Nunez? A surprisingly sweet and authentic look at how pets can help us heal. The unnamed narrator loses her closest friend and mentor to suicide. While his death is a shock, it is nothing compared to the fact that he has bequeathed her his beloved and arthritic Great Dane, Apollo. In a no-dogs, rent-controlled, 500 SF apartment in the heart of New York City, this is less than convenient. But before she knows it, she forms a strong attachment to the soulful and grieving giant, rarely leaving his side.
While at times a rather solemn book, it is peppered with some very comedic moments — such as when she ends up taking Apollo with her to her therapy sessions.
“Sitting in the therapist’s office, Apollo at my side, I can’t help smiling. It’s like we’re in couples therapy. Except that we get along.”
Well, and one of you is a giant, spotted, grieving dog.
Written in the 2nd person, as a monologue addressing her deceased friend, the narrator reflects on the impact he had on her life — personally and professionally. But I think even she is surprised on the impact he has had on her life following his death. Did he anticipate that the only way that both she and Apollo would survive their grief was through each other? Together they are able to navigate their sorrow, relying on each other to fill the hole left by his death. Portraying the raw pain of grief with eloquence and humor, Nunez reminds us that healing can be brought on my unexpected sources.
As a lover and owner of large-breed dogs, my only comment is that I wanted more of Apollo. The narrator, a writer/teacher by trade, spends much of the book contemplating, love, life, relationships, and writing — often relying on literature to draw out life’s lessons. As a result, Apollo goes silent for long stretches of the book, whereas I wanted more endearing Apollo anecdotes. But I recognize that having more Apollo stories would have shifted the tone of the book. So perhaps it is best to leave Apollo as a supplemental role and allow me to look to my own goofy dog for heart-rendering comedy (of which there is no shortage).
So I encourage you to track down this great find at your local bookstore (or library) and snuggle up with your pet (if you have one) and read it out loud. Just like the narrator discovered through Apollo, pets find comfort in hearing our voices.