Although it makes it no less painful, somewhere in the back of your mind, you’re prepared for the eventual death of your grandparents and parents. It’s the order of life. But you’re not prepared for friends to die.
When I was a teenager, I would often go to my grandmother’s house after school. One day I turned up to find her crying. She’d just discovered that a close friend had passed away, and that now she was the only one left in a group that had been affectionately known as the ‘old girls’ (despite having met in their twenties!). My 14-year-old self-centred mind had never even considered the prospect of friends dying, let alone grappling with the grief my Nanma was experiencing after losing friends that she’d had for over fifty years. That moment left a big impression on me and Lauren Fox’s Days of Awe reminded me of it.
Isabel Moore’s life is tipped upside down when her best friend, Josie, is killed behind the wheel in a single-car accident.
“Her rusty 11-year-old Toyota skidded off the slick road like a can of soup rolling across a supermarket aisle.”
In the days and months that follow, Isabel struggles to manage her grief, her crumbling marriage and her strained relationship with her pre-teen daughter.
“…I understood that our pain separates us – that something as monumental as sorrow ought to make us porous, but it petrifies us instead. I understood that, and then, like a goldfish, I forgot it.”
“…I grieved: hopelessly, constantly, fruitlessly, passionately… It seemed like the most important parts of me were also the worst.”
It may seem a little brutal to say that I ‘enjoyed’ a book about a woman whose best friend has died and whose marriage is all but over. But I did. Days of Awe is real, honest and surprisingly funny. In Isabel and Josie, Fox creates an exceptionally realistic take on friendship between women and, as the book switches between past and present, you see how small shifts in trust, love and judgement between friends can have enormous consequences. Fox gives you the complete picture of friendship – the laughs, the secret codes, the power of a history shared, the disappointments and the emotional exposure (not always a positive thing).
“This was … how we understood each other: goofy jokes skating on the surface and the truth of what lay underneath, the complicated architecture of it all. It was how we loved each other.”
Fox’s writing is sharp and aware, complete with turns of phrase that are truthful – “I hear him sigh, loud and annoyed. It’s the kind of sigh that is meant to be heard, part of the vocabulary of our unraveling marriage.”; that made me laugh – Isabel’s old track pants, “…which Josie used to call a blend of cotton and self-loathing”; and are beautifully written – “We’re at the grave site, the brand-new pinkish headstone a shiny heartbreak.”
“I glanced at one of the bouncy houses, all the flailing little arms and legs … and wondered if you could mark the exact moment in your life when jumping around on bright inflated plastic stopped being enough.”
I’ve barely mentioned the other (important) characters in the book – Mark (Josie’s husband and Isabel’s school friend); Helene, Isabel’s mother; Cal, a man Isabel meets through a support group; and the significance of Isabel’s miscarriages. Through each of them, Fox tests the themes of friendship and grief. It’s clever and admirable stuff, all encased in what is, at face value, a relatively straightforward story.
“…you lose some people that way – fast and blinding. But some people inch away from you slowly, in barely discernible steps. In the end it almost doesn’t matter. They’re just as gone.”
4/5 Honest and raw grief meets dark humour. I hope this book gets all the brilliant recognition it deserves.
I received my copy of Days of Awe from the publisher, Knopf, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
I love the scene where Isabel wipes her fingers, greasy from latkes, on someone’s silk scarf – such a childish but deeply satisfying move.