True Friends

Patti Miller

True Friends
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True Friends

Patti Miller

Friendships are among the most important relationships in our lives, often outlasting love affairs, marriages, even, at times, family connections. The loss of a friend can be one of life’s most disturbing events, yet these ‘friend break-ups' are little acknowledged in our culture.


In True Friends, acclaimed author Patti Miller recounts the joyful making and then painful ending of a long, close friendship. It is a deep and influential relationship in her life, but when it inexplicably unravels, Patti is left searching for answers. As she tries to make sense of this ending, Patti considers other important friendships throughout her life, questioning who we are drawn to, what we really know of each other and why some friendships endure while others end.

Evocative and intimate, this engaging book brings together the personal and the universal and reminds us of the centrality of friendships in our lives.

Review

‘I’ve been wondering why, compared to romantic love, the love of friends is not much written about.’ Seeking to redress this balance, albeit on a minor scale, Patti Miller sets out to recall and record over 60 years of her female friendships. Their formation, cementation and, in some cases, their dissolution. It is hard not to be drawn into Miller’s work. Who hasn’t felt the thrill of meeting and connecting with a new friend? Who hasn’t felt the grief of losing an old one?

Miller frames her exploration with three key concepts: Montaigne’s definition of friendship, the oldest recorded story on Earth, and the fallibility of memory. According to Montaigne, a true friend is a rare creature and has ‘no traffic or commerce, but with itself’. Therefore, family and lovers fall outside the definition as there is a bit too much ‘traffic’ there besides that of just friendship.

Despite literature’s comparative lack of model friendships, Miller argues that the oldest written story ever discovered is one of friendship: the Epic of Gilgamesh. I won’t recount the entire epic here, but Miller uses it and the relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu to frame and contextualise friendship as a phenomenon and her friendships in particular.

Of course, Miller can only give her own perspective. Dolly Parton once said that relationships were like a house with an upstairs, there are always two stories. Miller would likely agree, as she repeatedly points to the fallibility of memory and admits that True Friends is ‘only my construction. / Of my friends. / Of myself.’

Throughout Miller’s recollections, there is one friend she returns to time and again: Gina, an actress and playwright, with whom she bonds emotionally, creatively and intellectually – a meeting of like and equal minds. Despite the intensity of Miller’s feelings for Gina, the friendship dissolves, leaving Miller bereft and confused. In many ways, this seems to be Miller’s way of coping with that loss, and the result is a beautiful and stirring work.


Tristen Brudy is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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