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“True Friends” by Patti Miller: what does it mean to write a memoir about friendships lost and found?

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I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships, relationships, family, and love. Specifically, how all of these ideas around relationships intersect – how family can also be a friend, how a friend can be family, how plutonic love is essential to who we are as humans, and how we don’t really talk about friendships enough.

I think everyone experiences the loss of a friendship at some stage in their life, sometimes multiple friendships and the reasons for these losses are vast, complex, and sometimes confusing. It can be as simple as a friend moving to a different state and losing touch. It can be from a fight. And it can also be a slow unwinding that can be anything from ghosting to drifting apart. We have a lot of words to describe romantic love and breakups – we have song after poem, after novel after film about romantic love. Although very little about friendships.

Patti Miller’s memoir True Friends is the first time I’ve read something in the genre of autobiographical writing that tackles the issue of friendship and, specifically, friendship breakups. It would personally be very difficult for me to write and publish something about all the friendships I have had over the years, the ones that stayed and those that didn’t. It seems too strange to think about how to write such experiences and emotions. It feels like a different kind of soul-bearing that isn’t easy to explain. So regardless of what people think about Miller’s memoir, I think she was very brave to be able to put something like that out into the world.

Miller writes about a specific friendship breakup that she had with a woman who is called Gina in her memoir. Miller talks openly about her memories and how difficult it is to recall everything. She talks about how emotions clouded her memories or that some different situations became blurred or rolled up into one. I think her candor about this is unlike most autobiographical texts. There is usually this unspoken rule that the memoir has to tell the truth. That it has to include all the facts. But what if you want to talk about something where the facts are fuzzy, subjective, and complicated? I’m sure Miller could have easily written her memoir and clearly stated, ‘this is how I remember it,’ which also then implies that ‘this is true’. But what Miller offers up is her vulnerability as a person. She doesn’t claim to have everything right, and sometimes she isn’t even sure what is right, which seems truer to how humans actually remember relationships and life.

True Friends is a strange study in the human experience and after reading it, I got curious and had to have a look at some of the reviews. It seems mixed. I usually don’t write about what other people think about a book or how they reviewed it, but I have been wondering if the confusion and sometimes dissatisfaction with Miller’s memoir is that we, as readers, just aren’t used to this kind of story?

I honestly hope that more people write about friendships – especially in the broader genre of autobiographical writing. Friendships are beautiful and just as precious and painful as romantic relationships or family relationships. As a society, we could do better at telling stories that reflect that meaning.

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I’m curious to know if you have come across any books about friendships. Please let me know in the comments. As always, share the reading love.