“She Matters”: Female Friendships of Susanna Sonnenberg’s Life

In her new memoir She Matters: A Life in Friendships, essayist Susanna Sonnenberg tells the stories, in 20 brief essays, of the friendships of her life—including friendship choices and dynamics that have been influenced, of course, by how she was raised.

The review by Kirkus sums it all up:

One of the first friends she made as a child taught her that it was possible to have ‘no drama at all’ in a relationship with another female. Others, like the girls she met in boarding school, became role models, comforters and confidantes. They helped Sonnenberg navigate a turbulent adolescence that included an affair with a married teacher and other sexual betrayals. Two young women brought the author into an awareness of females as objects of desire. As an adult, Sonnenberg had many passionate friendships, only to either outgrow them or be outgrown by them. When she married and became a mother, the challenges she faced in her relationships with other women increased. Not only was she still trying to fulfill her yearning for lasting connections with other females who also lived complicated lives, she was also confronted with having to ‘rewrite…my previous definition of motherhood’ and grow beyond the example her own mother had set for her.

In an interview for Publishers Weekly Stephanie Arndt asks Sonnenberg why she chose to write on this topic:

In my mid-30s a very close friend dumped me. She had specific reasons why I was a bad friend, and I was terribly confused (and devastated) that she saw me that way. This got me thinking about how a friendship can serve a vastly different purpose for each of the two friends. I started to wonder about purpose—the gain and lesson—of all the friendships with women in my life. I set out to tell several stories of friendships, and with each story to write about a particular moment of life. I concentrated on women because women make things intense. We can’t help it.

Is this the breakup she means? Emily Rapp, in her Boston Globe review of She Matters:

…(T)he most moving chapter is one in which a friendship slips away after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, for reasons the writer struggles to understand, a break that comes as a surprise, a woman we hardly know before she is gone: ‘It never occurred to me the elegant friendship could end in shards.’ Sonnenberg lets us into the process of grief and loss in a way that attempts to unpack the psychological roots of the woman’s decision in a way that is not based solely on the author’s singular experiences and is therefore less purely self-referential than the drama of the other chapters.

Selected Reviews of She Matters

Carolyn Cooke: “It’s the truest, most human book I’ve read all year – generous, hilarious, ecstatic and profound.”

Publishers Weekly: “Sonnenberg’s strikingly honest depictions of tumultuous female alliances and confessions about friendships are both moving and relatable; her depth of reflection and incandescent prose marks this exceptional memoir as a must-read to share among friends.”

Emily Rapp, Boston Globe: “Navigating ‘the complex task of belonging‘ is the gift these women give to Sonnenberg, and her gift in response is to inspire the reader to unpack her own history of friendships, the ‘scaffolding of friends,’ with all its betrayals and disappointments and long-held loves, to render that ‘deeply known friend’ and to remember ‘love in its greatest warmth, its common comfort.'”

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