College comes too early for many of us, at a time when we aren't yet ready to take seriously the idea that other people exist outside of just ourselves. I am always a little envious of those who choose to put off college until they have experience working alongside people who humiliate or affirm their own existence. The consequences of quitting or overworking are clear. Without those, college can be an expensive extended dream.
It's a precarious space to try and bring to life, but Rachel B Glaser succeeds in Paulina & Fran, her first novel. It follows two women from their first meeting in college through their first jobs post-graduation. Glaser's short stories and poems have been more instructive and life-giving to me than any other work by contemporary writers so I wasn't surprised that her novel would impact me in a similar way.
Paulina and Fran are two art students brought together by a trip to Norway for a class. Their bond wears thin when they return to their art school and begin separate though sometimes shared relations with a male classmate.
Glaser dips in and out of the minds of all of the characters in a way that effectively gives weight to the otherwise flighty emotions of the students. Having multiple POVs can read as messy but in Paulina & Fran it clearly demonstrates their obsession with each other in the face of their own insecurities, a feeling I know too well.
After college, the two split and Paulina turns her aggressive confidence turns it into a flashy career. Fran struggles with decisions, ultimately ignoring making art in service of working a dull full-time job. Glaser's observations of the what a come down working a 9-5 after college can be is chillingly accurate. Always imagining someone somewhere is living a more glamorous life is well observed here.
By the time the two are in contact again, they've been engaged in a psychic love affair for months, punctuated by missteps in the real world, leading them clumsily into one another's presence. The ending may leave some wanting but I felt satisfied seeing the exact moment where everyone decides to grow up. Glaser's reverent observations to the slightest change in temperature and her character's wry dialogue made this a cathartic book as well, one I'm glad she wrote so I can get on with my own life.