For Willa Jacobs, looking at her best friend Jane is like looking in a mirror on a really good day. Strangers assume they are sisters, and they share everything: an apartment, clothing, and groceries, and the challenge of making rent on part-time jobs. Together they are a fortress of private jokes and shared opinions, with a friendship so close there's hardly room for anyone else. But when Ben, Willa's oldest friend, reappears and falls in love with Jane, Willa wonders: Can she let her two best friends find happiness with each other if it means they leave her behind?
Excerpted from Friends Like Us by Lauren Fox. Copyright © 2012 by Lauren Fox. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Lauren Fox is the author of Still Life with Husband. She earned her MFA from the University of Minnesota in 1998, and her work has appeared in The New York Times, Marie Claire, Seventeen, Glamour, and Salon. She lives in Milwaukee with her husband and two daughters.
“[A] hilarious, heartbreaking novel.” —Marie Claire
“A strikingly wise exploration of the bonds people forge and break. Fox delivers on plot, but it’s her insight, emotion, and eye for universal truths that make Friends Like Us memorable.” —People
“Friends Like Us is at once a hilarious page-turner and a wise meditation on friendship, marriage, and the ways in which our parents’ mistakes so often shape our lives.” —J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine
“[A] poignant comedy. . . . Fox makes you care about Willa and everyone else in Friends Like Us long after you’ve finished.” —The Washington Post
“Reading Friends Like Us is like finding an old photograph of yourself when you were in your twenties…. Fox will have you laughing and crying and calling your best friend in the middle of the night.” —Rebecca Rasmussen, author of The Bird Sisters
“A perfect . . . page-turner for cozy winter nights.” —Glamour
“Fox has drawn a sharp portrait of . . . female friendship, inscribing both the joys and the needs that maintain its bonds while also illuminating the countervailing forces that could send its partners flying apart.” —Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
“Rings with the familiarity of a long-lost friend.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Fox delivers a punch (and a story I can't stop thinking about) with her surprising and deeply honest novel.” —Laura Dave, author of The First Husband
“A funny, astute examination of the fragility of friendship.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Friends Like Us, with delicacy and humor, captures the ambiguities of attraction in an ironic age.” —Vogue
“Absolutely killer. . . . It’s a punch in the gut, watching how friendships change as these women move into adulthood.” —Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters
“Willa’s multifarious humor is well matched by Jane’s quieter presence. . . . Fox proves herself here, as in her first book, attracted to the crumbling, collapsing character of friendships as well as romances.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“How to make a novel about the shaky geometry of romance feel fresh? Lauren Fox, in her second novel, succeeds admirably, partly because she places her twenty-something characters against a grim backdrop of economic uncertainty and the not-quite-healed wounds of parental failures.” —The Boston Globe
“Sure to resonate with anyone who has experienced regrets and complications in a super-close friendship. . . . This is a story filled with true-to-life people complete with their messy relationships and salted with hilarious word play and other witticisms that don’t take away from the poignancy of the plot. To sum up: Pure. Enjoyment.” —Bookreporter
“The hard emotional truths go down easily amid the smart, rapid-fire wit. A pure if heartbreaking pleasure.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Dazzlingly entertaining and utterly engaging, Friends Like Us draws an intimate sketch of need and loss, crosshatched by friendship and love. Willa is funny, fallible, and fierce as she navigates family's inexorable pull and the self's desire for individual orbit. Fox’s gorgeous novel grapples with ordinary truths in an extraordinary way, and will leave you paying more attention to the people who matter to you most.” —Gwendolen Gross, author of The Orphan Sister
“Wounded, witty Willa is a remarkably complex creation. Moving, artfully written.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Friends Like Us is smart, funny, and winning, but the thing that strikes me most about it is how honest it is. Lauren Fox perfectly captures the way best friends love each other, make each other laugh, and sometimes, at their worst moments, break each other’s hearts.” —Lauren Grodstein, author of A Friend of the Family
1. What is this novel about: love, friendship, and what else?
2. Though the book deals with serious subjects, it’s often wildly funny. How does Fox use humor to tell the story?
3. Who is the better friend, Jane or Willa?
4. Much is made of how similar Willa and Jane are. How does this affect their behavior, toward each other and toward the outside world?
5. Who does Willa love more, Jane or Ben? How can you tell?
6. Who does Ben love more, Willa or Jane? How can you tell?
7. Both Seth and Ben have been inconsistent presences in Willa’s life. What else do they have in common?
8. How do Willa’s and Jane’s parents’ marriages shape their outlook?
9. On page 54, Stan says to Willa, “Love can be ruthless.” How does this prove true? Are there any relationships in the novel that are free of ruthlessness?
10. Willa says that the one thing she’s learned from her brother is that “opportunities for forgiveness are unlimited” (page 57). How does this belief influence Willa’s actions later in the novel?
11. What might Jane and Ben have done differently, to respect Willa’s feelings? What role did their behavior have in what ultimately happens?
12. How does Jane’s kissing Dougie affect Willa?
13. Each character in the novel has episodes of extreme selfishness. Whose affects the others most deeply?
14. Reread the prologue. Now that you know what’s happened, how does your interpretation change? What “other options” is Jane referring to?
15. By the end of the novel, how has Willa grown? In what ways has she changed?
16. What purpose does the epilogue serve? At the very end, Willa says, “I understood that the ease of knowing you will love someone forever is always shadowed by the inkling that you might not: that even such a sweetness could end.” What does she mean?
17. Does the novel have a happy ending? How do you envision the end of Willa and Ben’s relationship?