Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan

I have really loved Sullivan’s books in the past, so it’s suprising it took me this long to getting around to reading her “new” book (it came out last summer.) However, I was able to do that rare thing I love-going in blind to a book. I didn’t recall reading any reviews, one or two of my friends had read it but not said anything about it, and I’d somehow avoided having any idea what it was about. Once I realized that I kept it that way and truly had no idea what I was in for. Sometimes that’s a terrible idea, sometimes it’s fun, it’s always a little exciting. Because you find yourself responding to a story and liking or not liking characters and then thinking “Wait, is the premise of the story that these people hate each other and I’m just enjoying what amounts to a prologue?” or something like that. You also have no idea if your story is going to cover a short period of time, or years (I find it very jarring when I wasn’t expecting a book to cover decades and it does.)

So I will say that pretty much everything unfolded much as I thought it would-in part because of the story and in part because of the author. Which is not to say anything negative-I really liked this book a lot. (Another negative sounding comment-it seemed to take me a really long time to read this. It just felt like a very loooong book. Not boring or tedious, but long. Perhaps just reading a few pages felt like enough for a sitting. One friend commented that she also found it long, likely due to all the feelings they talked about a lot.)

I like Sullivan’s writing and I especially enjoyed this story being told from two points of view: Elisabeth, fairly newly arrived to a small upstate NY college town with a new baby, coming from Brooklyn and the whole Brooklyn rich scene; and Sam, senior year college student with a long distance relationship with Clive (in London), who babysits for her. Sam and Elisabeth almost immediately become very close. My gut kept saying “too close! too close! It won’t end well!” but then I’d think “Why can’t a true deep friendship come from an employer/employee situation? They are so good for each other.” Having the story told from both of their viewpoints lets us see very clearly that others often see us in a different light than we see ourselves.

I enjoyed all the minor characters, especially Elisabeth’s father-in-law, who was so likable. There were certainly many other unlikable characters-Elisabeth’s sister was terrible, Clive was awful. I really wanted to jump into the story and start shouting out my advice to everyone.

A solid read.

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