I’ve read only one book by American writer Joseph Epstein–his 2006 Friendship: An Expose–but the strength of this work was enough to make me a convert. His writing style is superbly, elegantly constructed, intellectual in the best sense of the word, possessed by an inimitable wit and an ability to share the most telling anecdotes at just the right time.
Reviewers at Slate and the New York Times weren’t kind to the book, mainly because of the way they felt that Epstein related his friendships, his explicit lack of personal revelations. That’s a fair criticism; I felt it too. For me, though, that was secondary, Friendship‘s value as a sort of typology of friendships, as an examination of friendships both personal and historical and the ways in which differences and similarities can bring people together. The perspective of time that Epstein brings to friendship lets him conclude that the possibilities for friendship across once impenetrable barriers have increased greatly.
That’s too true. Slate recently had a series remarking on the novelty of male-female friendships, possible only after the 20th century saw something closer to equality of the sexes and female autonomy. The Christian Science Monitor covered how heterosexual men found–find–it difficult to form friendships for fear of being identified as effeminate or even gay. I know that quite a few older gay friends of mine are surprised that most of my male friends are straight. My entire social life, really, would have been impossible even a generation ago. It’s still impossible in most of the world, probably even in some parts of Canada. The amount of pleasure, support, happiness that people have deprived themselves of on account of these barriers saddens me.