The Butterfly Effect

Pretend I'm Your Friend by M.B. Caschetta

Pretend I’m Your Friend

Author: M.B. Caschetta

Engine Books, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-938126-42-0

$14.95

 

Pretend I’m Your Friend by M.B. Caschetta shows that love and friendship are tricky topics that have lasting effects even after they fade. In the eleven short stories, characters try to gain companionship to get rid of the loneliness that the past has left them with. Though the characters seem to pass each other by, their influence on one another builds as the collection continues.

Caschetta’s characters come from a broken past of some kind, each unique in their own way. A.J. runs off to Italy with a friend to escape her family for a time. Marie, at the death of her boyfriend, recalls the affair she is having at work. Lorena seeks the companionship of her sons’ babysitter. Mary-Kay is caught up in the past, and wishes her cancer was someone else’s problem. These characters navigate relationships and gain complexity from various narrators.

The focus for these characters is the past, and how it is different depending on the one recollecting. A.J. is a reoccurring character throughout the book, and she develops most particularly, depending on the perspective. In “Hands of God”, she appears to be running away from her father by traveling to Italy. However, her sister Ginny’s narration depicts her differently in “Alice James’s Cuban Garlic,” mentioning how A.J. had abused their brother. In A.J.’s last appearance, “Marry Me Quickly”, her new brother-in-law confronts her about the abuse. A.J. did have a past to run from, and one the whole family prefers not to talk about. Depending on the narration, the reader is forced to change their perception of the character.

A.J.’s first story “Hands of God” sets the theme for the book. She wonders to herself: “What if it’s essentially the same wherever you are?” This is a fitting question to appear in the first story, with a character who appears the most in other stories. The line carries the theme of interconnectedness that returns repeatedly in the book. In every story, there is a character that is trying to run from or relive the past, or make a connection with other people. The characters are diverse, and no matter where or when they are, they are all trying to manage their relationships with other people.

In the story “A Line of E.L. Doctorow,” Lorena does her best to manage her own relationships. Finding a new babysitter, she “feels alive again, as if somehow she’s forgotten all about friendship with women – not counting the stiff creatures Connecticut grows to mother and marry. Lorena wants real live chatter and lunches, companionship.” Living in the strict upper-class neighborhood, she finds the friend she is lacking while living with a perverse husband. Lorena lusts after a relationship with the babysitter, but her relationship with her husband – and the husband’s relationship with the babysitter – prevents it. In the end, the babysitter must leave. Female companionship is sacrificed to maintain the marriage.

Caschetta does a remarkable job in setting a different tone for each story. The most prominent is in “Pretend I’m Your Friend,” where Marie is experiencing loss and regrets. The tone gives the reader a numbing sensation that is part of the grieving process. Likewise, “What’s Not My Fault?” shares its feelings of anxiousness with the reader as Mary-Kay is dying. “A Line of E.L. Doctorow” has a building tension that could potentially destroy Lorena’s marriage. The short stories communicate the tone through their powerful context.

The character set in Pretend I’m Your Friend is diverse. Each character has their own voice, and no two characters sound alike. A.J.’s development is the most striking, especially given the difference between her self-image and the way others view her. The characters are distinguished by their different perceptions of themselves, others, and relationships. Although these stories are about interconnectedness, Caschetta has made her characters strikingly different.

Pretend I’m Your Friend is a set of interconnected stories that bounce between the past, present, and future. The interactions between different characters may seem small and insignificant, but they influence each’s story in larger, fulfilling ways as the reader navigates this poignant collection.

Reviewed for the SFWP Quarterly by Amanda Murphy.

 

Amanda Murphy is a soon-to-be graduate with a BA in English at Binghamton University. She is an intern for SFWP for the fall. She also helps edit her campus’ undergraduate literary magazine. In her free time, Amanda enjoys knitting and listening to symphonic metal.

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