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the story behind the book | kate tuttle

The loss of a friend inspired a novel about friendship’s meaning

david wilson for the bostoN globe

“I was a lucky person to have met a best friend when I was in third grade who continued to be my best friend for 45 years,” said Victoria Redel. And despite the fact that her friend, Nancy, died a few years ago, Redel added, “I guess she still is.”

The endurance of friendships among women is at the heart of Redel’s novel, “Before Everything,” her fifth book of fiction (she also has three poetry collections). Five women in their late 50s, friends since childhood, gather as one lies dying of cancer.

The plot draws in part from Redel’s experience with Nancy. “Going through the experience of having someone really beloved get ill and decide to stop treatment, that was absolutely a true kernel for this story,” she said.


It’s never a mystery whether Anna, the sick friend at the heart of the novel, will ultimately die. “The drama that happens in the book is in a sense not what happens to Anna,” Redel said. “It’s what happens to the community around her. How do we make those decisions as friends, when does standing behind someone mean really understanding, really trying to listen to them?”

In many books and movies, female friendships are written around major conflicts and betrayals, but what interests Redel, she said, is “how human relationships manage the subtle complications over time: How do we manage feeling hurt with a friend and yet still navigate our way through life? How do our friendships become another family?”

Set in the Western Massachusetts landscape where Redel lived post-college, the novel is collage-like, an accumulation of memories and voices in Anna’s life. Redel hopes it will appeal to all kinds of readers. “While I’m thrilled to write into the experience of middle-aged women,” she said, “I don’t think of this as just a book for women.”


Redel will read at 7 p.m. Friday July 28 at Newtonville Books.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at