What Are You Going Through (Riverhead Books) by National Book Award winner Sigrid Nunez is a perfect follow-up to her previous novel, The Friend, where a woman’s friend passes away and she takes on the responsibility of her dog.
In Nunez’s latest novel, empathy is the focus when this narrator’s friend, who has cancer, asks if they could go away on vacation together. Her plan is to not be alone during the trip when she decides to end her own life with pills. Companionship and friendship have risks and the narrator agrees to the vacation, taking it all on to accompany her friend on this emotional journey.
“I don’t know who it was, but someone, maybe or maybe not Henry James, said that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who upon seeing someone else suffering think, that could happen to me, and those who think, that will never happen to me. The first kind of people help us to endure, the second kind make life hell.”
The characters’ exploration of the will to survive, the zest for life and the finality of death give the reader a lot to think about. The unnamed narrator describes several encounters with random people she crosses paths with in her life and these stories help to answer questions about humanity and the title question: what are you going through?
Although the premise of What Are You Going Through sounds depressing, the story is not. Nunez is introspective and thoughtful, clever and humorous. Her characters are humane and compassionate.
Through her storytelling, Nunez addresses illness, forgiveness and communication, along with the challenges of being a writer. She also demonstrates how people have a need to tell their stories, and the stories are interesting if you bother to stop and listen.
What Are You Going Through is available for purchase.
Check out the BookNationByJen review of The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, a wonderful story about a woman and her dog.