Friends & Strangers: J. Courtney Sullivan's Diverting New Novel
Mon, 11/23/2020 - 10:35am by eapearce
In J. Courtney Sullivan's latest novel, Friends and Strangers, she continues to demonstrate her ability to paint complex portraits of women at different stages of life. Sullivan is the author of four well-received previous novels, including Maine, Commencement, The Engagements and Saints for All Occasions. While some of these are set in the present day and some are historical fiction, all ask questions of their female characters that are deeply relevant to women then and now: do I want to become a mother? What if I don't want to become a mother? What if I regret becoming a mother? Should I get married? Should I stay with my partner when things aren't working? How can and should I support myself and my family?
Friends and Strangers asks these questions and more of two main characters, new mother Elisabeth and her college-aged nanny, Sam. Despite coming from very different backgrounds and being over a decade different in age, the two bond quickly. But each woman is dealing with some personal struggles and working to decide what trajectory to take in life. Elisabeth endured a series of brutal fertility treatments to have her first and only child, and now her husband wants another, but she isn't sure, especially because she's keeping a secret from her husband that she wants to share with him but doesn't know how. Sam met an older British man when she was visiting a friend in London and he wants to get married as soon as she graduates from college, preventing her from pursuing her dream career. Over the course of the book, both women make decisions and mistakes that lead to changes in their relationship to loved ones and each other, and ultimately to a surprising rift.
One of my favorite aspects of Sullivan's books is that she challenges readers with characters that are not always likable. There is rarely one main character in her novels that readers can be entirely sympathetic towards. Characters have flaws, make mistakes and make the wrong choices, just as happens in real life. This is what makes Sullivan's books so comforting to read, in a way, because they truly feel like reading about true experiences for the characters. This also makes the books easy to really sink into and become immersed in. If you're looking for a distraction this winter, picking up Friends and Strangers or a previous one of Sullivan's books may be the ticket!