“Your parents will fail you. Lovers will fail you. In the end it’s this: your best friend in a pancake house, witness to your despair.” That’s wisdom from Willa Jacobs in “Friends Like Us,” the latest novel by Lauren Fox. Willa is a 20-something artist who knows friendship is the linchpin of existence. Friends are constants, where family is often dysfunctional or missing in action. She remembers how a platonic relationship floated her through high school:
“Ben wasn’t exactly a guy, in the same way I felt I wasn’t quite a girl. Together, we were a third sex, an unsexed sex, and so, like siblings, like twins, like some sort of human/lemur hybrid, nothing was weird between us. We nurtured each other with great doses of sympathy and a tiny, shimmering sparkle of mutual superiority.”
Ben reenters Willa’s life at their high school reunion and to Willa’s surprise, is no longer “unsexed.” He’s shed the baby fat, grown several inches and developed an actual jaw. Willa brings him home to meet her other best friend, Jane, and the story’s poignant comedy takes off.