Lyn Gregory and Susanna Sonnenberg, author of She Matters, discuss the importance of female friendships.
Susanna Sonnenberg has written two memoirs–the first about the fraught relationship with her mother. Her latest book tackles the nuances and complexities of women’s friendship with an honest, raw look at the ones she’s enjoyed, survived and endured since childhood. The stories of these friendships paint portraits full of passion, inspiration, love and betrayal and are a testament to the importance of female friendships in shaping the lives of women. Susanna was born in London but grew up in New York and now lives in Montana with her husband and two sons.
Savannah Magazine: This is your second memoir. What about this genre inspires your writing?
Susanna Sonnenberg: In my first book, Her Last Death, about my pathological mother, I needed rigorous honesty as a counterpoint to all the lying I was raised with. The form demands honesty and authenticity. It’s what makes for good writing for me.
SM: You focused on your relationships with women, not men, in this book. What made you decide to restrict yourself to female relationships?
Susanna: When we tell the story of our lives, we discuss jobs, college boyfriends and other elements as the events in our lives, but our female friendships aren’t billed as prominent markers in telling our stories. I was interested in what was not getting said, the underlying bones of our lives, those dramatic relationships that don’t get talked about.
SM: Some of the friendships you recount in your memoir are short lived and others extend over long periods of time. Are these “bursts” of friendship as important in shaping our lives as the long term ones?
Susanna: I do. I write memoir listening to the nagging, little voices, memories that never leave you. If you are still thinking about that person years later, something happened. There’s a reason they come back to you. I was trying to look as the ways every experience makes us who we are; in the development of self, I wanted to use friendship as the lens.
SM: Some of the most painful and honest sections of your book, recount fractured friendships such as Nina and Claire. These must have been hard to write about so openly.
Susanna: It did help me understand these relationships at a deeper level and the process brought me a lot of compassion for the women involved and also for myself. There is a myth that all women’s friendships are happy and supportive but they are always more complex and challenging than that simple description.
SM: Did you lose any friendships over the publication of your book?
Susanna: Either I cleared it with a friend before I included specific information or I changed some details to obscure the identity of the relationship.
SM: As a result of analyzing your friendships, can you share with us what are the most important characteristics of enduring relationships?
Susanna: Forgiveness and the ability to repair damage done. We all mess up; we all disappoint. Most often it happens in ways that have nothing to do with the friendship but one’s own history. We have to be brave enough, strong enough to find ways through. And sometimes, in spite of great love, it just isn’t possible to make it work.
SM: Have you ever been to the South before? What do you imagine Savannah to be like?
Susann: I’ve spent time in Virginia and New Orleans but not Georgia, even though one of the important friendships in the book is with a woman from Georgia. I picture it as very proper and beautiful. It does take three planes to get there though!