‘It is difficult to write about fractured friendships with other women, not simply because of the personal, painful loss, but because the subject of women’s friendship is so ideologically charged.’ Liz Byrski.
This thoughtful, seamless anthology is a blend of fiction and non-fiction essays exploring the good, the bad and the ugly in female relationships. Some stories have a literary feel, while others are more direct, but all of them were a joy to read.
Helen Garner’s foreword summed up this book perfectly. She writes:
‘There is a great variety of tone in the essays, wild laughter as well as tears, and plenty of juicy overlap, especially in the matter of stopping speaking to one’s friend, a thing that recurs countless times, bringing comic contortions of outrage and an all too familiar pain’.
The topics in Just Between Us are diverse: nüshu (a fascinating, ancient women’s-only Chinese language), internet trolls and even an alternative ending to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – written in email format. However, it was the recurring theme of aborted female friendships that I found most intriguing and engaging. I admired the honesty and courage of the authors who shared their deep and personal anecdotes. It couldn’t have been easy for them to do so.
Many writers mused over reasons as to why they lost their best friend, but Liz Byrski’s discussion of deep acting (where ‘we work to change how we feel in order to make the relationship work’) resonated with me the most. She connects research by sociologist Arlie Hochschild to her own friendships with a simplicity that makes perfect sense. (And just between you and me, Liz’s friend’s audacious behaviour, in Liz’s own home I might add, made my jaw drop!)
As the individual stories unfold throughout the book, a great deal of compassion is shown to the Ex Best Friends (EBFs). Thoughtful consideration is given to both sides. I am yet to develop such balanced feelings about the sudden termination of a close female friendship late last year, but these stories have gone a long way in helping me gain a sense of closure over ‘unfinished business’, and an alternative outlook as to why things went wrong. The balanced feelings will hopefully come with the passage of time.
While reading, I couldn’t help but think of the friends who owned the other side of the story in Just Between Us. What would their reaction be if they read the book? Would old wounds be healed, or would scars deepen? Three years have passed since this book was first published. I wonder…
And it is to those ex-best friends that the final paragraph of the book is dedicated:
And last but not least, we give a comradely nod to our ex-best friends; wonderful, worthy jousting partners who must have their own stories to tell, and without whom this anthology could not have been possible.