NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2020 BY NPR, PEOPLE, AND O, THE OPRAH MAGAZINE
A NEW YORK TIMES CRITICS’ TOP BOOK OF 2020
“As good as The Friend, if not better.” —The New York Times
“Impossible to put down . . . leavened with wit and tenderness.” —People
“I was dazed by the novel’s grace.” —The New Yorker
The New York Times–bestselling, National Book Award–winning author of The Friend brings her singular voice to a story about the meaning of life and death, and the value of companionship
A woman describes a series of encounters she has with various people in the ordinary course of her life: an ex she runs into by chance at a public forum, an Airbnb owner unsure how to interact with her guests, a stranger who seeks help comforting his elderly mother, a friend of her youth now hospitalized with terminal cancer. In each of these people the woman finds a common need: the urge to talk about themselves and to have an audience to their experiences. The narrator orchestrates this chorus of voices for the most part as a passive listener, until one of them makes an extraordinary request, drawing her into an intense and transformative experience of her own.
In What Are You Going Through, Nunez brings wisdom, humor, and insight to a novel about human connection and the changing nature of relationships in our times. A surprising story about empathy and the unusual ways one person can help another through hardship, her book offers a moving and provocative portrait of the way we live now.
Nunez's deceptively casual and ultimately fierce work (after the National Book Award-winning The Friend) ambles through a range of digressions toward a plot involving euthanasia. At the beginning, the unnamed narrator has traveled to visit her unnamed old friend in a hospital, where the friend is being treated for cancer. But before the narrator describes the visit, she details her experience at a depressing lecture by a pretentious journalist who turns out to be her ex. This side trip involved an Airbnb, where "a cat had been promised," but after she checked out, having never seen the cat, she learned it had died. Eventually, she reaches the hospital, and the tension picks up. Her friend is planning to kill herself before she's too debilitated, and two other friends have refused to help. Will the narrator? As the two women make and implement their plan, Nunez studies the intersection of friendship and morality. Much of the novel's action is internal, as the attention of its judgmental, withholding narrator flicks from books to movies to sharp-edged thoughts about the people she encounters, offering plenty of surprises. Those willing to jump along with her should be tantalized by the provocative questions she raises.
The way they write
“...that is why the good ones sweat and bleed over their sentences, the best ones break themselves into pieces over their sentences, because if there is any truth to be found they believe it will be found there. Those writers who believe that the way they write is more important than whatever they may write about—these are the only writers I want to read anymore, the only ones who can lift me up.”
“What Are You Going Through”