I normally stick to recommending classics of travel literature, but I’m going to break my own habit because I enjoyed this book so much.
This slim first novel from renowned poet Forrest Gander punches well above its weight in ounces. It’s the perfect size for the side pocket of your backpack, and great travel reading because, like poetry, you’ll find yourself returning to it again and again.
Set in the rural American South and fully in tune with its rhythms and nuances, the deep sense of place evoked by Gander’s prose is second only to the deep sense of character it explores. As a Friend is the story of Les, a land surveyor and gifted writer, a person who profoundly affects everyone he touches. His closest workmate Clay envies him — he unconsciously mimics Les’s gestures and phrases, tries desperately to be noticed by him, and in the end comes to both love and despise him because Les represents everything Clay can never be. Les’s girlfriend Sara was so deeply entangled with him people forgot where she ended and he began. And Les himself? He sought only to “be consequent” to those around him; to be the ideal friend. But Les was living a double life which in the end unraveled around him.
The story is told in three distinct voices: the words of Clay, Sara, and a final few pages taken from a recorded transcript of Les. It’s an emotionally-charged exploration of friendship, envy, attraction and loyalty, which Gander’s exquisite and powerful language will leave you helpless to put down until the final page has been turned.
Grab a copy from the good people at New Directions today.