Familiarity and Strangeness in Elizabeth Hay’s “The Friend”
Elizabeth Hay’s “The Friend” is a reflection of a snapshot in time by the narrator, Beth. The story follows the evolution of her friendship with a woman named Maureen, while it appears that the friendship follows the evolution of Maureen’s marriage. Before moving on to Beth’s perspective for the rest of the story, the introduction describes Maureen and an uncomfortable routine sexual encounter with her husband. This first passage is symbolic of the marriage, Maureen being described as passive and resentful, yet silently compliant. She and her husband, Danny, do not communicate and she finds him to be inconvenient, his “energetic weariness” juxtaposed against her own “weary energy” (Hay 684).
The friendship between the two women changes as the reader is immersed deeper into the increasingly dysfunctional sexual relationship between Maureen and Danny. Beth becomes more and more irritated by Maureen as Danny’s homosexual tendencies begin to appear more frequently. The story is an engaging one, filled with symbolism, imagery, and sexual tension. “The Friend” prompts readers to join on an exhausting emotional rollercoaster and reflect on complex relationships; what does it reveal about Danny and Beth that they love such an unstable woman and allow her to consume their lives? This piece, and several others, are largely unanswered by the author, leaving many problems unresolved.
I would recommended this story to others, as it transports readers to an unfamiliar but intriguing alternate existence. However, although the explicit events in the story are unusual, the underlying theme of complex and destructive relationships are more common, making this an engaging but relatable story.
Hay, Elizabeth. “The Friend.” Short Fiction: An Anthology, edited by Mark Levene and Rosemary Sullivan, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 684-692.