Review: Schwalbe’s memoir shines when focusing on one friend

“We Should Not Be Friends: The Story of a Friendship,” by Will Schwalbe (Knopf)

Will Schwalbe’s new memoir, “We Should Not Be Friends,” explores an unlikely bond between two men who met in college and maintained a four-decade-long friendship.

That is the focus, for sure, but the book really shines when it delves into the ups and downs of its main characters — one in particular.

When the story begins in the early 1980s, Schwalbe is a Latin and Greek major whose friend circle is comprised of writers, theater enthusiasts and fellow gay students on the Yale University campus.

Through his induction into a secret society, Schwalbe is thrust into close quarters with a few Yale jocks — one of whom, a wrestler known almost universally by his last name, Maxey — is the other titular “Friend.”

These guys aren’t sure what to make of each other at first, but Schwalbe and Chris Maxey eventually form an improbable kinship that endures as they confront a litany of life’s challenges: health scares, physical distance, relationship drama and much more.

“Friendship is everything,” Schwalbe writes, and he’s not wrong, of course.

The book scrutinizes the two-way nature of friendship and the difficulty inherent in maintaining one despite the roadblocks of time and distance.

This is all good stuff, but “We Should Not Be Friends” is not at its best in this realm.

It is, however, when the reader learns more about Maxey and his goings-on.

His time as a Navy SEAL. His efforts to start a school from scratch in the Bahamas, maintain and grow it. His relationship with his wife and four kids. A medical diagnosis that is eerily similar to one that befell his biological father.

Schwalbe, who lives in New York with his partner and eventual husband, sees Maxey at several Yale reunions, dinners in New York and even visits him in the Bahamas a couple of times. Those post-graduation interactions, coupled with phone calls, letters and emails, provide a fully realized picture of Maxey and his life.

Frankly, a book written solely about Maxey would have worked nicely.

That’s OK, though. There’s plenty of Maxey-centric material to keep things interesting.

Plus, there’s also a thoughtful – and honest – examination of the times that the pals sometimes fell short of being there for one another. And how, despite those few slip-ups, they always managed to right the (friend) ship.

“Had it not been for Maxey, the me that is here today wouldn’t be me,” Schwalbe pens.

Written like a true friend.

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