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Friendship by the Book: An Interview with Anne Roiphe

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Epilogue (HarperCollins, 2008) is a gripping memoir by National Book Award finalist Anne Roiphe, who was forced to recompose her life after the sudden loss of her husband of 39 years. With compelling candor, Ms. Roiphe shares the intimate memories of her happy marriage and the uncertainties of her life as a new widow. In Booklist, reviewer Carol Haggas writes, "No one can really prepare a woman for this passage in life, but Roiphe's luminous memoir is a beacon of help, and ultimately hope.

After reading this provocative book, I mulled over its lessons that also touch on female friendships, and was thrilled when Ms. Roiphe graciously agreed to expound on some of her thoughts in an email interview.

Roiphe is the author of fifteen books and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Vogue, Elle, Redbook, Parents and The Guardian, and is a contributing editor to the Jerusalem Report.

In the book, you mention an old friend who called to offer her condolences and said, "I wouldn't want to be in your shoes." How can women better support each other in times of grief? Are there any words or actions that might be more soothing?


I guess the trick would be to avoid any phrase that sounds like pity or condescension, or gloating about one's own life. The simple words would be, 'It must be hard" or "I can imagine how difficult that must be," etc.

After your husband H.'s death, you seemed to focus on meeting men rather than women. You seem to be more tolerant of their foibles than those of your female friends'. Can you explain that?

I have many women friends who I talk to often and see often. I was interested in a man who might be more than a friend, but a real companion in life that includes physical connection... That is harder.

You talk about a "sisterhood of widowhood" to describe the kinship of women who have experienced the loss of a spouse. Do you regret not nurturing female friendships more during the years before H.'s death? Do women need bonds like these to fall back on?

I think it is a good thing to have woman friends at every stage of life, we confide in each other, we support each other, we understand each other most of the time. Of course, sometimes we are competitive or angry or distant too. But I do think it is important not to let the main friendships slip away in the sweep of the days.

In the book, you mention a fractured friendship with your friend Y. that you made efforts to rekindle. What are your thoughts about being rebuffed? Was it you, your friend, or some combination?

I am not a perfect friend and it is impossible not to rebuff or be rebuffed if you move about the world. I wrote about this not to accuse but to say this is part of it...sometimes you put out your hand and it isn't taken.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and is working on a book about female friendships which will be published by Overlook Press. Friendship by the Book is an occasional series of posts on about books that offer friendship lessons.

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