‘She’s the way I swear and how I let men look at me or not, she’s the bit of steel at my center, either her, herself, or the loss of her. Before that year I was nothing but a soft, formless girl, waiting for someone to come along and tell me who to be...
She lied to me all the time.’
I have begun so many sentences with something along these lines: ‘Julie Buntin’s Marlena is a novel about...’ and then I stumble over horrendous words like, ‘friendship’, ‘girlhood’, and that dreadful phrase ‘coming of age’. Because these are lazy ways that we pigeon hole a novel so that some imagined intended audience will find it. Have you ever heard anyone actually say ‘oo I love a coming of age story’. That’s not how anyone I know thinks. Marlena, is about so much and to write about it as a book concerned with intense female formative friendships misses about eleven other angles from which it speaks.
So, where to begin. The narrator Cat, or Catherine, or Cath, depending on her age and with whom she is speaking, is spurred by a phone call to remember the year in which she moved to Silver Lake, Michigan, aged fifteen, and became best friends with this torrent of beauty, pills and sorrow, Marlena. Who knows if they would have remained friends forever, probably not, but Cat never gets to find out for sure - Marlena drowns. Now she is in some way always with Cat.