Why your most successful friends will let you down


You may have noticed the many glowing articles from friends of Salman Rushdie about their “brave” and “brilliant” friend. I too would like to write a glowing article about my brave and brilliant friend Salman Rushdie, but there is one small problem: I am not a friend of his. In fact, I don’t have any famous novelist friends.

I used to. There was the occasional lunch with Nick Hornby and the odd debauched evening with Will Self. I drank whiskey with Norman Mailer and smoked weed with Ken Kesey, author of Flight over a cuckoo’s nest. (And I have a nice letter of thanks from Edward St Aubyn – does that count?) The point is, I could never be friends with Rushdie or Friends, Zade or Rooney, because successful writers never can only be good friends with other very successful ones. writers.

It sounds cold and cruel, and it is. And that’s why the writers claim it’s not true; but it is the fundamental thermodynamic law of literary life. Successful authors stick to their own genre; they go to the same literary festivals, drinking clubs, award ceremonies and dinner parties. Despite their defense of egalitarian ideas, they constitute an elite based on success. American critic Terry Knight once wrote an amusing account of a dinner party featuring Lou Reed, Susan Sontag, Laurie Anderson and artist Marina Abramovic. Knight was treated like the unspoken, unspoken woman all evening — even by her good friend Sontag — because she was not a successful person.

No one likes to believe that success – in any field of human endeavor – will fundamentally change them. Who could be superficial enough to dump a good friend because of their lack of success? After all, you share a story. You were best friends in college. You were the best man or a bridesmaid at their wedding. You support the same football team and love the same writers and bands. You are even the godfather of one of their children. So why should anything change when one of you becomes a big hit?

And then their book is published, is a huge success, and everything changes. Not at first, but gradually. At first you are so happy for your friend. And then comes the second bestselling book, which receives critical acclaim and wins various awards. That’s when the little voice in your head says: wait, that’s not such a good book! That little voice will morph over the years into a Munch-like scream with each new bestselling novel from your bestselling friend.

In the meantime, your book has been out and bombarded – or it’s received polite reviews. (And you can’t help but notice that bestselling friend’s blurb for your book cover was rather superficial: “Really good.”) Your second book – the best thing you’ve ever written – won’t find no publisher. Every time you meet your successful friend, he asks you “Any news?” like your book is in the hospital being treated for a curable disease, like terminal failure.

Time passes and with it the possibility that your book will one day find a publisher. Your book has become an awkward topic of conversation for both of you. Then one day they stop asking about it. Are they, you ask, sensitive to your plight – or are they so self-absorbed, as successful people are, that they’ve forgotten you have an unpublished book?

Dumping a less successful friend is not a conscious decision; it happens organically and spontaneously. You quit writing and teach a creative writing class at No Hope University. You and a successful friend start moving in different circles. They go to the literary evenings to which you were invited. At first, a bestselling friend will ask you to go with him, but you decide it’s too awful to be the bestselling author’s best friend. You’re going to a book launch and a hot girl from PR spurts on your friend, then turns to you and says, “What are you doing?” And you make a lame joke about being the successful person’s personal assistant, which makes everyone uncomfortable.

Then you start seeing yourself less. A Bestselling Friend has so much work to do, including finishing the script for his fifth bestselling book, to which Netflix has purchased the rights. You have the odd catch-up lunch where a successful friend just talks about his success and meets famous writers and his new best friend Salman Rushdie. And you wonder: have they always been so self-centered?

And then it jumps out at you: it should be the subject of your next novel.

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