When Paulina first notices Fran, she’s drawn to her blonde ringlets, quiet jokes and inventive outfits. These traits may sound like a shallow basis for friendship, but Paulina has a knack for granting purely aesthetic details an air of drama and importance. She is, after all, entering her senior year at a prestigious art school.
Along with the rest of their classmates, Paulina and Fran pay little mind to what they’ll do post-college, instead quibbling over guys, lazily drifting in and out of focus on artworks made in their respective mediums, and, most importantly, dancing. Fran’s an uninspired painter, Paulina a self-important temptress with an intense disdain for making art -- upon realizing this, she convinces the school to create an Art History major on her behalf. They forge a bond on a class trip to Norway, criticizing their classmates, meandering from discothèque to discothèque, buzzed from the high of youth and carefree travel. But the haze clears when Fran gets romantically involved with Paulina’s filmmaker ex, and the pair spends their final year of college begrudgingly admiring each other from afar.
After graduating, they float on to careers in new cities -- Fran bouncing around odd jobs and landing in a test question-writing position, Paulina stumbling into luck with a curly hair product she invents -- but their time together remains a steady source of nostalgia and yearning. Glaser manages to capture the natural ebbs and flows of friendship, a murkier relationship to explain than romance, and one inexplicably explored less often in fiction. Female friendship in particular seems to have been deemed unworthy of literary merit, but Glaser is among those working wonderfully against that notion.
Her characters live in a world where the most damning insult you can utter is one involving bad hair. But, the emotions underlying their harsh quips are tender. Glaser doesn’t reveal these deeper motivations often, perfectly imitating the callous irony of youth. When she does break from the constant crescendo of confidently declarative sentences to bask in something quiet like a memory or a longing, she reminds the reader of the humanity shaping her self-consciously cool characters.
It’s the sort of insight that can be afforded by the interior nature of a novel -- imagine if, while watching “Girls” or “Broad City,” the hilarious slacker girl jokes were interrupted by occasional insights into what Hannah or Ilana earnestly feels about her friends. It’d be a jarring disruption from the mood of the shows, but a welcome reminder that unbridled emotions are worth expressing, at least to oneself.
Of course, Fran and Paulina, trying as they are to construct manic pixie personalities, find such unbridled expressions embarrassing. So, they dance around genuine connection like superzealous partygoers, thumping to the beat of a new kind of fate unrealized. Glaser’s novel is charmingly devoid of tech-related missed connections -- what keeps her characters apart are their own pride-fueled insecurities.
The bottom line:
A funny, fast-paced story that follows the post-college life of a drifting, obsessive friendship, Paulina & Fran will appeal to everyone from fans of “Broad City” to Elena Ferrante devotees.
Who wrote it?
Rachel B. Glaser is the author of the short story collection Pee on Water and the poetry collection MOODS. She got her MFA from UMass-Amherst, and her BFA from RISD.
Who will read it?
Those interested in female friendship, comedic writing and the weird intricacies of the art world.
"Paulina was dissatisfied with her lover. He was too tall. He leaned on things. He thought he knew everything. Lying next to his sleeping body, Paulina considered his narrow, serious nose."
"A week later, they all graduated in faux silk, then, like trash in the water, floated off to lousy jobs in obscure towns and heartless cities. Terrible things happened in the news. People killed one another in inventive ways, and Fran read about it guiltily, as if her interest promoted it."
Paulina and Fran
by Rachel B. Glaser
Harper Perennial, $14.99
Publishes September 1, 2015
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