Looking for books about male friendship
August 31, 2020 12:48 PM   Subscribe

There are quite a few books about female friendship I can think of without trying very hard at all. But I'm having trouble finding similar books about male friendship. There are some, right?

So books about female friendship are pretty easy to find -- My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante; Sula by Toni Morrison; The Group by Mary McCarthy; Who Will Run the Frog Hospital, by Lorrie Moore. But I'm having a hard time finding similar stories about male friendships. The closest I can come is Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson, which is a bit...different from what I'm looking for. Someone suggested The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan, but yeah, no. (Also I hated it.)

Weirdly, stories about male friendship aren't all that hard to find in fiction that isn't literature. Right off the top of my head: the opera Don Carlo; the movie Kill List; the movie Diner; the TV show Wiseguy; the movie Adam and Paul. Hell, even The A-Team does this reasonably well. But I have a really hard time finding novels. Any suggestions?

YA is ok, although I'd prefer novels written for adults. It doesn't necessarily have to be literary fiction. And just to be clear, I'm not looking for father and son stories, or stories about brothers. I'm also not looking for stories of sexual relationships between men -- just platonic, close friendships. (I've read A Little Life, but that's not really what I'm looking for.)

Thank you!
posted by holborne to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
The Epic of Gilgamesh.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:53 PM on August 31, 2020 [5 favorites]

I don't know how well the cultural context (upper and upper-middle class England, 1920s/30s) would translate, but my favourite series of books, Antony Powell's 'Dance To The Music Of Time', is fairly explicitly about this, at least through the first five books.

I don't have an analogue for the Stringham / Jenkins / Templar friendship in my life, but the friendships with Barnby and Moreland seem extremely relatable to me.
posted by wattle at 12:55 PM on August 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm rereading Our Mutual Friend right now and the relationship between Eugene and Mortimer is not central to the book but a very recognizable form of male friendship to me.
posted by Polycarp at 12:55 PM on August 31, 2020

Lonesome Dove comes to mind. "The story focuses on the relationship among several retired Texas Rangers and their adventures driving a cattle herd from Texas to Montana. Set in the closing years of the Old West, the novel explores themes of old age, death, unrequited love, and friendship."
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:59 PM on August 31, 2020 [5 favorites]

A few years ago my local bookshop had an endcap display of books about male friendship. It stuck in my head because they called it "bromance reads" which I rolled my eyes at. The only one I remember was Arthur and George by Julian Barnes. I've read it since and it's a good book and might be what you're looking for.
posted by cpatterson at 12:59 PM on August 31, 2020

Oh holy hell though, I can't believe I didn't think of the Aubrey/Maturin books first thing. I mean it's right there in the name - these are technically books about high seas adventure during the Napoleonic era, but they are actually books about the greatest platonic bromance of all time.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:03 PM on August 31, 2020 [21 favorites]

The friendship between Theo and Boris in The Goldfinch (by Donna Tartt) is wonderful.
posted by nantucket at 1:15 PM on August 31, 2020 [6 favorites]

The Temeraire series might serve. I'm thinking of the protagonist's relationships with the various members of his crew, some of whom are male. The most important relationship in the story is between him and his (male) dragon, but it reads more as imaginative historical fiction, not fantasy.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:16 PM on August 31, 2020 [6 favorites]

The Goldfinch could work for what you're looking for? It's not necessarily primarily about Theo and Boris' friendship, but it's a big part of the plot. (On preview, nantucket beat me to it!)
posted by Paper rabies at 1:16 PM on August 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

Not sure if this fits with what you are looking for, but I am a big fan of the friendship in the Gentleman Bastards books, starting with Lies of Locke Lamora.
posted by past unusual at 1:17 PM on August 31, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Temeraire series might serve.

Which originated as fanfic of the Aubrey/Maturin books! Can cosign, they're better than you might imagine books about battle dragons would be.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:20 PM on August 31, 2020 [5 favorites]

Also if you do want to go the YA route, and don't mind the anachronism of a homophobic world, A Separate Peace is the iconic story of ambiguous love, envy and competition in teenage boy friendship.
posted by nantucket at 1:26 PM on August 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

On the Road, although I don't know if I'd read it again with the same enthusiasm I had thirty years ago.
posted by hydrophonic at 1:26 PM on August 31, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Chosen, Chaim Potok.
posted by HotToddy at 1:57 PM on August 31, 2020 [5 favorites]

Quite common in older genre fiction, almost of necessity given the general absence of women. Lord of the Rings alone has Sam/Frodo and secondary ones like Gimli/Legolas and Merry/Pippin. I could spend a while going on with examples from that era (e.g. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser) but it'd get repetitive.

Jeeves/Wooster was clearly friendship if you've read the whole opus. Depending on how central you want the friendship to the plot, you can add in things like Darcy/Bingley and various characters in Dickens. Graham Greene's Monsignor Quixote in retelling Don Quixote has a touching friendship between a priest and a communist.

On preview: The Chosen is a great example.
posted by mark k at 2:05 PM on August 31, 2020 [4 favorites]

All Summer Long, by Bob Greene. Maybe it's the roadtripper in me, but I loved this when it first came out.
posted by Fuego at 2:14 PM on August 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon? It is a very long, and good, bromance novel.

On the Julian Barnes front, how about Metroland?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:19 PM on August 31, 2020

Peter Heller, The Dog Stars. Post-pandemic sci-fi, ultimately revolving around an unlikely and hard-won male friendship.
posted by bleston hamilton station at 2:21 PM on August 31, 2020

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
posted by allymusiqua at 2:40 PM on August 31, 2020 [5 favorites]

The Sherlock Holmes stories.
posted by rjs at 2:41 PM on August 31, 2020 [4 favorites]

Came charging in here to say Aubrey/Maturin, it taught me (female) how to be a better friend, the relationship is fabulous, flawed, wrenching, touching.

Nthing LOTR, also Sherlock?

Plus, quite seriously, Asterix and Obelix!

Ooh! The Three Musketeers!

Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier. I would link but I'm drunk.

The novella behind Stand By Me - Steven King's The Body.

Red Orm by Frans Bengtsson.

A unique, disturbing children's book: Under Plum Lake.

Pickwick Papers?
posted by runincircles at 2:44 PM on August 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

The River by Peter Heller centers around male friendship
Richard Russo often covers male friendship in his novels.
posted by brookeb at 2:50 PM on August 31, 2020

Ooh! The Three Musketeers!

That's a good one!
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:03 PM on August 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

Buckle up, because The Expanse is a bajillion words long and has this in spades.
posted by teremala at 3:49 PM on August 31, 2020 [3 favorites]

Johnno by David Malouf
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:52 PM on August 31, 2020

Moby Dick (for Ishmael and Queequeg)
posted by JonJacky at 4:08 PM on August 31, 2020

Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:13 PM on August 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

I came in to nth LOTR. The men in LOTR are tender as fuck with one another. It's true, though -- there are pretty much only four women in the books (Arwen, Eowyn, Galadriel, and Rosie Cotton if you skip over children and the spider Shelob.)
posted by Kitchen Witch at 4:22 PM on August 31, 2020 [6 favorites]

I'm glad to see Gilgamesh is the first answer here because that is the original bromance.

The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolaño
Kokoro, Natsume Sōseki
posted by betweenthebars at 4:28 PM on August 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

Women in Love - D H Lawrence

A Passage to India - E M Forester

The James Herriot books, starting with All Creatures Great and Small (in the US) turned on the friendship between James and Siegfried, the owner of the veterinary hospital James and Siegfried's brother Tristan also practiced at.

If you want an exploration of particular male friendships in great depth however, you practically have to turn to volumes of letters, such as the Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald letters, or what I consider the flower of them all: The Freud Jung Letters.

They are a little hard to take along one axis though, because Freud clearly loved Jung, and I could never tell whether Jung was afraid of being overwhelmed and losing his identity or was just kind of a cold fish. Up to that point I'd tried to like Jung because so many friends did, but after those letters it was impossible.
posted by jamjam at 4:31 PM on August 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
posted by DSime at 4:50 PM on August 31, 2020 [3 favorites]

A Separate Peace
The Outsiders (and most novels by SE Hinton)
posted by bearette at 6:05 PM on August 31, 2020

Tigana has strong friendships between main characters. It's also quite a read.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 7:19 PM on August 31, 2020

My book club recently read Chances Are by Richard Russo which is about three men in their 60s who have been friends since college.

Donna Tartt's The Secret History has a group of college men (and one woman) as the main characters and is wonderful. The friendships have varying degrees of "close"ness.
posted by jabes at 8:19 PM on August 31, 2020

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, although they are cousins (who grew up on different continents).

Zorba the Greek
posted by hydrophonic at 9:05 PM on August 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Art of Fielding is nominally about baseball (and a little bit about Herman Melville, and a little bit about a gay May-December relationship—look, there’s a lot going on) but it revolves around a friendship between two very different young men. It’s one of my all-time favorite novels.
posted by liamcampbell at 10:34 PM on August 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

I thought all my faves had been mentioned here already but I'd also offer up Days Without End by Sebastian Barry.

I also initially thought there were tons (and fav'd a book you specifically ruled out in the question, whoops) but the more I think about it l, I sort of get what you mean. Even examples I could think of in other media, I can out-think myself - is it really ABOUT the friendship? Gonna badger my much better read partner when they're awake and come back.
posted by ominous_paws at 10:54 PM on August 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

Possibly both on the "but is it ABOUT the friendships" list but both excellent are The Sweet Forever by George P Pelecanos and Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.
posted by ominous_paws at 11:03 PM on August 31, 2020

brideshead, for a certain value of friendship
posted by ohkay at 11:36 PM on August 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliffe, plus many other books by her.
posted by Cheerwell Maker at 5:47 AM on September 1, 2020

Seconding Kavalier and Clay and, sticking with Michael Chabon, Telegraph Avenue.
posted by tomp at 8:44 AM on September 1, 2020

Response by poster: Lots of great suggestions here, thanks! A lot of them I've read and are perfect examples that I didn't think of, like "The Outsiders" and the Herriot books, which I loved as a kid. Of course, as I was reading these answers, I thought of a bunch of more examples in movies and TV, like "Bang the Drum Slowly" and Star Trek (mostly TOS).
posted by holborne at 9:19 AM on September 1, 2020

Following one of these links here led me to this list.

Goodreads list on Male Friendship (please, no fantasy).
posted by indianbadger1 at 11:19 AM on September 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you want one more example from the movies, there's the Bollywood classic Sholay. It looks like the full, subtitled movie has been removed from Youtube, but I found translated lyrics for "Yeh Dosti Hum Nahi Todenge".
posted by hydrophonic at 8:44 PM on September 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Coming in stupid late b/c I thought of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:46 PM on September 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

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