Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was thinking about how to review this and indeed, if reviewing was even going to be a productive act for the book, myself, and for the slightly perplexed and slightly confused and often quite intrusive experience of reading it. But then, I began to think about how sometimes reviewing and writing about literature can help to pull that apart and figure out what it is and why it made me feel so … off. And then I began to think that the first part about this review is this: Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing is not necessarily what it thinks it is. At first take, it’s a memoir, a fairly typical thing which details the life and experience of a very famous individual in very famous circumstances. And that individual, Perry, can write. Sometimes he writes too big and sometimes he writes too little but sometimes he writes just right and those moments are sharp, nuanced things. I liked it. I disliked it a lot as well. Some of it, I frankly skipped. But others, I read and thought: that is the good stuff, right there, that is writing and that is smart.

A book of contrasts, then, but also of mess and also of love but not quite necessarily the sort of love that you might think of when you hear that word. This is a book about loving and needing and wanting the things that will kill you if they can, if you take your eyes off them for a moment too long, and Perry knows that. He writes about his lows and his highs (in all of the senses of that word) and how he has found his hard-fought way through. Some of it is not easy to read, some of it is frankly discomforting, and some of it aches with a near-Faustian edge to be heard as much as it wants nobody to listen.

There are points when I longed for structure, for some more clarity and rigour to it, but I suspect that it was never going to be the sort of text to have it. Whilst I understand the thematic impulses and the stylistic impact of this, it makes it … thin, at times, a book that’s running away from itself as much of the author is. And yes, subtext, but also the point is made and then the point is made all over again, and I understood that but then I began to think of why and who and what this book is in the world for.

One key reason, I think, is for others who need that journey and to see it in somebody else’s life and to realise: they are not alone in this, and I welcome it for that. Perry holds nothing back and he is bare-boned with his truth. And yet, some of it could be held back, some delicacy, some love, perhaps, for himself, for others. He hints at this throughout but it’s coy, uncomfortable stuff; his admiration for Matt Le Blanc, for David Schwimmer, struck me in particular, and yet these were so briefly rendered that they were like threads of sunlight in a fog.

In many ways, I don’t think Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing is what it is dressed up to be. Instead, it is something else, something stubborn and difficult and distinct and raw and red, something faint and lost and hopeful and found. Were I to be presented it by one of my students, I’d be asking them to find structure and to edit and to cut, cut, cut, but I think I’d also be asking them to think about what this meant for them to write. Because sometimes, sometimes, it’s not about the story that you’ve told but rather the fact that you’re here to tell it.

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