A book dedicated to friendship can easily bring me to tears. Reading about finding comfort in the presence of someone, loving them without expectation and depending on their companionship is a cozy, heart-warming experience. “A Bit Much” reflects all this beauty of friendship but also the inevitable heartache that accompanies the good.
Published last June, “A Bit Much” is Canadian writer and editor Sarah Jackson’s debut novel. The novel follows Alice, a 24-year-old, anxiety-ridden woman, as she tries to grapple with the challenges of adulthood and her best friend’s sickness. The book depicts some first-time struggles Alice has as an adult such as being unemployed, having insomnia and seeing her own reflection when looking at her mother’s wrinkling face. But most importantly, the story follows Alice having to get accustomed to living a life separate from her best friend, Mia.
Throughout the novel, Jackson presents the beauty of female friendships. She depicts the intimacy between Alice and Mia and their efforts in protecting each other even if it means their relationship will no longer be the same. Through Alice’s apprehensive character, Jackson explores how messy friendships can get. As kids, Mia was the more independent one. She was the one who ran ahead of Alice and became the shoulder to cry on. But now that Mia is in the hospital, Alice realizes that for the first time Mia might need more reliance than her.
For Alice, it is hard to visit Mia in the hospital and put on a face of happiness while she is concurrently spiraling over disturbing thoughts of having to live without her best friend. “I’m a coward… I avoid thinking about the ocean or space—they’re too big. I can’t grasp death. The immensity, the finality, if you don’t believe there’s a place where someone is waiting for you. I don’t know what to do with something so immovable, ” says Alice. Alice is unable to process Mia’s sickness, but she also cannot discuss her emotions with Mia. Her only escape route is avoidance.
On the other hand, Mia wants Alice to continue living her normal life. Whether it’s through hanging out with their mutual friends or going on dates with her neighbor James, Mia hides her own struggles from her best friend. Having grown up together, both Alice and Mia are aware of each other’s pain that is slowly drowning their relationship in secrecy and sorrow.
The relatability of “A Bit Much” made it an exceptionally moving read for me. We have all lived through the challenges of growing up, and, for the first time, having to live apart from our childhood best friends. In a way, Alice’s anxiety and insecurities mimic what many of us students feel as we leave our hometown for college. At a young age, I would’ve asked myself, how could I ever not live in the same neighborhood as my best friend? How could I not see her for months at a time? How could I make fun memories that she would not be a part of? But the time comes when we have to learn to shape our identities independent of our childhood best friends or even our families, when we have to let go of their constant presence even though our love for them never dwindles.
Jackson’s prose further enhances the relatability of her novel. It feels as though we are reading through Alice’s stream of consciousness, getting to hear her recount old memories, then rant about her current problems and then loose focus and make note of the drowsy winter temperature. Alice’s inability to learn to comfort herself without relying on old support systems and the recurrence of her dark thoughts can make her point of view irritating at times. However, it captures a realistic state of mind. Think back to your first week on campus as a frosh when the adrenaline rush had passed and you FaceTimed your best friend from home. Perhaps it was the first time you realized things would be different, that it was time you tried to figure out how to live apart from them.
Towards the end of the novel, Alice reminisces on a memory of playing hide and seek with Mia as kids, when Mia told her they should hide alone. Alice explains that she let Mia hide on her own, but kept an eye on her until eventually she lost track. When the game comes to an end, adults gather to get Alice, who is still hiding. Alice recounts: “As they were leading me back to the house, I said we have to go find Mia —she’s still out there. They said no, she left.”
Jackson conveys that just like then, the time comes when they need to hide alone, but even when they are hiding alone, they will look after one another, whether that’s behind a bush, through hospital visits, text messages or simply recalling old memories. And at the end of the day, they can both leave their hiding spots alone.
Obviously, it is easier said than done and Alice never truly reaches this conclusion. But Jackson’s prose allows us to see that that’s just another inexplicable beauty of life-long friendships. I have lived away from my childhood best friend for over a year now, but at times I rely on her more than ever before. Just like I rely on her to be the first reader of this column every other week.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.