Apart from several scenes with Sonnenberg’s father, as well as small details about boyfriends and a brief mention of struggles in her marriage, the men are largely peripheral. This makes sense in a book devoted to the role of women in the narrator’s life, but it also denies the reader a chance to see the author from a different angle; we see her through the characterization of other women, but we don’t often see her standing alone; when we do, the book shines.
Indeed, the most moving chapter is one in which a friendship slips away after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, for reasons the writer struggles to understand, a break that comes as a surprise, a woman we hardly know before she is gone: “It never occurred to me the elegant friendship could end in shards.” Sonnenberg lets us into the process of grief and loss in a way that attempts to unpack the psychological roots of the woman’s decision in a way that is not based solely on the author’s singular experiences and is therefore less purely self-referential than the drama of the other chapters. Interestingly, the writing becomes fractured here and loose, breaking from the smooth style of the rest of the book.
“She Matters” artfully reveals the depth and gravity of love between women as they make sense of the changing and often treacherous emotional and logistical terrain of their forward-moving lives. Navigating “the complex task of belonging” is the gift these women give to Sonnenberg, and her gift in response is to inspire the reader to unpack her own history of friendships, the “scaffolding of friends,’’ with all its betrayals and disappointments and long-held loves, to render that “deeply known friend” and to remember “love in its greatest warmth, its common comfort.”
Friendship, a relationship undergirded by love, is a reality that is fraught and complicated, full of terror and truth. “We’d been real,” Sonnenberg says, “we’d been there.” Women often put women on the map, in their own lives as well as in the larger world. In that sense, this deeply personal book is epic: It tells the universal story of those who love and shape us, those who witness our struggles and our triumphs, and each of Sonnenberg’s friends — even if not the author herself, not fully — will remain imprinted in the reader’s mind, just like the image of a beloved friend.
Emily Rapp is the author of “Poster Child’’ and the forthcoming (March 2013) “Still Point of the Turning World.’’ She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.