Susan Orlean Picks Her Favorite Buddy Stories
In the era of "friending," stories of true friendship are more riveting than ever. Susan Orlean, author of "The Orchid Thief," tells a classic story of friendship between a man and his dog in "Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend." As a puppy, the world's first celebrity dog was abandoned on a World War I battlefield and rescued by an American doughboy named Lee Duncan. It's a classically American story of determination, ambition and dedication, but most of all it's a heck of a buddy story: A man and his dog rise from the trenches of war to the heights of fame in golden-era Hollywood, relying on each other to get through all the muck in between. Here, Orlean shares some of her other favorite stories of friendship.
Ann Patchett's memoir of her great friendship with writer Lucy Grealy perfectly captures the almost romantic sensation of finding instant intimacy with a new friend--and the excruciating moment when that closeness starts to wane.
Huck and Jim are probably the template for American buddy literature: an unlikely match, each one a misfit, more complete as a pair than apart, facing the world as a team. Their odd fit is an important element in the story; buddies often are more interesting and more fiercely paired when they don't seem to belong together.
Even though a plant hardly seems to be buddy material, no friendship in literature is as touching as the one between the giving tree and the boy in Shel Silverstein's book. I've read this book to my son at least a thousand times, and each time I'm moved to tears. Part of what is so poignant is that, as in a friendship with an animal, one partner in this pair is mute. The economy of the book is astonishing: In so few words, it evokes a whole lifetime as well as a friendship that has no limits.
George and Lennie make an odd couple, but they are true buddies, devoted and tender with each other. Like all true buddies, they bicker, and George (at least) imagines that his life would much easier if he didn't have to take care of Lennie. And yet he does take care of him, and that's what gives this book its heart.
Susan Orlean has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1992. She lives in upstate New York.