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Fiction Contemporary Women

Who We Are Now

A Novel

by (author) Lauryn Chamberlain

Penguin Publishing Group
Initial publish date
Aug 2023
Contemporary Women, Romantic Comedy, Coming of Age
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2023
    List Price

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One of Skimm's Books We Couldn't Put Down This Year

Four friends. Fifteen years. Who We Are Now is a story of Sliding Doors moments, those seemingly small choices of early adulthood that determine the course of our lives.

It is 2006 and Rachel, Clarissa, Dev, and Nate are best friends, seniors on the eve of their college graduation. Their whole lives are before them, at once full of promise and anxiety. Bound to one another as they are, they imagine their closeness will last forever—but things change as they take their first steps away from one another and into adulthood.

Each year is told from one character’s point of view, and in that way, we stride swiftly through their lives. These four friends feel their twenties and thirties flying by, and suddenly small moments fast become regrets or unexpected boons, decisions they’ll spend years wishing they could undo and choices that come to define them. As the foursome endure professional setbacks, deep loss, and creative success, fortunes shift and friendships strain—and it will take a tragic turn of events to bring them together again.

Who We Are Now is a poignant story of epic friendship that jumps boldly through the years, moving at the same unforgiving pace as does that precious, confusing time between college and real life. This novel is perfect for readers who adore tales of friendship, explorations of the second coming of age moment that arrives in our thirties, and fans of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings or Dolly Alderton’s Ghosts.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Lauryn Chamberlain was born and raised in Michigan. She studied journalism and French at Northwestern University and then moved to New York City, where she worked for several years as a journalist, freelance writer, and content strategist (sometimes simultaneously). She currently lives in Toronto.

Excerpt: Who We Are Now: A Novel (by (author) Lauryn Chamberlain)

"Can you believe it's the last night we'll all be here? It's so weird."

Nate shook his head, then massaged his aching neck. No, he couldn't believe it. The last night of college? Four years of midterms and Easy Mac and tapped kegs and a blur of evenings like the one he had just passed had all culminated in . . . this? It seemed both too incredible and too ordinary to be believed.

"Get dressed." Rachel reached over and smoothed his hair. "We need you in the living room at five."

He glanced at the clock again. "Five? I need more time."

"But we missed you so much all day!"

"I don't believe you."

"Fine, we want you to drive us to go pick up vodka for the pregame."

"Ah, bingo."

"Thanks, Natie," Rachel said as she stood up. "I'm going to finish getting ready. The last Friday night!"

Nate leaned back against the wall at the head of his bed, trying to will himself to get up and get in the shower. The last Friday night.

Every preceding Friday night for the whole of their senior year had started in pretty much the same way. He and Dev would hang out in their shared room-he was still annoyed the girls had won the battle for the separate bedrooms upstairs-reading for their Joyce seminar, messing around on the guitar, or napping off the effects of a too-wild Thursday night. At some point in the evening, they'd hear the squeak of the stairs, glance up at their sloped ceiling, and wait for the clacking of Rachel's high heels and the stomping of Clarissa's boots as the two of them bounded downstairs. Then the girls would burst into the room, announce the plans for the night, and start needling the boys, making fun of them, dressing them, offering them vodka shots like intrusive collegiate fairy godmothers.

It never occurred to Nate or Dev to make any Friday night plans. Every weekend, they waited for the girls to plan their adventures. He would miss that when he moved to New York, he thought, but he decided he had to assume that his "real life" would work itself out. What was the sense in getting maudlin over the unremarkable end of the four-year headache of university? Sufficiently galvanized, he heaved himself up off his bed and headed to the shower, towel wrapped around his waist.

He ran into Dev in the hallway on the way to the downstairs bathroom. Dev wore sweatpants with no shirt, and he held a slice of cold pizza in one hand. He raised the other to fist-bump Nate.

"Dude," Dev said. "We should've gone home last night when Rachel and Clarissa did. I'm fucking wrecked."

Nate shrugged noncommittally, deciding not to let on how bad he felt. No matter how "wrecked" he claimed to have been, Dev never seemed to throw up or look hungover or embarrass himself. Nate had been trying to carry off this kind of casually-put-together nonchalance ever since he had been assigned to room with Dev freshman year, but by now it was starting to seem like the kind of thing you were just born with-like height, or a fast metabolism (both of which Dev had as well).

"We have to rally. Last night of college! Rachel already came in to berate me."

"Well, after tonight, it's just the first night of our real lives, right? Even better."

"Maybe." They padded down the narrow hallway to the kitchen, where Nate stopped in front of the fridge. He found Dev's broad grin energizing, as he often did, but he also needed something with stronger medicinal powers than optimism. "I need a shower beer. Hair of the dog, take the edge off."

Nate popped the can, took a long sip, and exhaled.

Dev shook his head and laughed. "Better?"

"Better. What am I going to do without you in New York?"

Nate meant this as a jovial sign-off to their conversation, and he started back toward the bathroom. After a shower and a full beer to clear his lingering hangover, he'd be ready to have a genuine conversation. But Dev had other plans, it seemed; he followed Nate out into the hall and toward the bathroom.

"Actually, I've got some news." He raked a hand through his thick black hair, cocking his head. "I think I'm gonna move to New York, too."

"Okay, yeah, you're shitting me." Nate laughed, assuming this was a typical Dev joke. "Now, get out, I have to shower. Rachel thinks we're going to take her to get liquor."

"I'm serious."

Nate turned back to face him. Is this for real? With Dev, you never knew. He was always threatening to do things like start a band or organize a protest, but then he would abandon the idea as suddenly as he'd taken it up. The rest of them had already determined their postgrad plans: Nate would be an analyst at Lehman Brothers; Rachel had taken an editorial assistant position at New York magazine; Clarissa planned to stay in Chicago and wait tables or bartend while doing the "comedy thing" on the side. Dev was the only one who hadn't settled on a plan yet, characteristically laid-back even about this most defining decision.

"Really? You found a job in New York?"

"I mean, I didn't find a job yet," Dev said. "But I will, right? I'm applying to a few communications things out there, and I can always temp. Or maybe teach. I'll figure it out. But it just feels like New York is the place to be."

Nate didn't say anything. Until this very moment, he had felt sad at the idea of leaving Dev behind in Chicago. Now, something about the idea of Dev coming to New York seemed less than desirable. He sensed that the night suddenly had the potential to become entirely about Dev moving to New York, in the way that Dev's spontaneous adventures often became the focal point of, well, everything.

"Come on, what do you think?" Dev raised his eyebrows. "I mean, my parents would be more into it if I were moving out there to work at Lehman Brothers with you. But screw it. You going is enough for me."

With that, Nate's mood changed. He thought of their years of shared houses, their shared adventures. He was being an idiot; of course he wanted to move to New York with his best friend.

"Hell yeah, man." Nate smiled, clapping Dev on the shoulder. "Let's do it."

Dev grinned back. "Okay, I'll get out of here so you can shower. Alcohol run at five sharp."

"Five. Got it."

Dev broke the news of his move to Rachel and Clarissa in Nate's car on the way back from the liquor store.

"Oh my God, yay," Rachel shrieked, throwing her arms around Dev's neck to hug him from her perch in the back seat of Nate's Camry, and Nate wished he could say something that would invite the same kind of physical response.

"Ow, release the choke hold," Dev joked. "I regret calling shotgun."

"Where are you going to live? Move to the West Village! That's where I'm looking."

"I can't afford the West Village. I haven't sold my soul for the big bucks like Nate here."

"Hey!" Nate objected, hoping he sounded jovial, but the comment stung, even though he usually felt relieved to have added a somewhat last-minute economics minor to his English major, thus opening a door toward financial security. Three months ago, he'd been forced to make the big decision: to take the Lehman Brothers job offer, or to pursue a graduate school acceptance at Columbia. He'd wavered for only a moment before choosing the chrome and flash of Wall Street over the green-leafed idyll of academia. After all, ever since he had decided to apply for investment banking jobs, Lehman had been his dream: He wanted the very best. Still, every now and then, when his roommates talked about their creative dreams, a part of him wondered if he'd done the right thing.

"That's not an insult, by the way," Dev clarified. "I'd sell my soul immediately if I had any takers."

"Well, wherever you live, this is big news," Clarissa said evenly, always the more pragmatic one. "Is Nate helping you move? Are you going to get a place together?"

"Um, we didn't talk about that yet," Nate said.

"Wow, you guys always have the most detailed conversations," Rachel mocked. "Dev, why'd you tell him first?"

"Because he's my best friend, dude."

"Your best friend? Ouch! And don't call me dude."

"Settle down," Clarissa said, putting her hand on Rachel's shoulder. "I can't relive the argument over Dev's MySpace Top 8."

As Nate pulled up to the curb in front of their ramshackle house, he gave a silent thanks for Clarissa's moderating influence. Without it, Rachel and Dev could be a little bit . . . much.

"Okay, everybody out," he commanded. "Grab the booze out of the trunk. Pregame and then Cody's party on Hamlin?"

"Roger that," Dev said.

Cody was a friend of Nate's who would also be going the investment banking route in New York after graduation, and they had recently signed a lease on an apartment in Murray Hill, a place Nate had heard of but never seen. Nate had known Cody since freshman year, but he was more useful for when you wanted to shotgun a beer before the game and less useful for providing details on lease negotiations and managing paperwork.

As he reached the front door of the house, trailing Dev with the final case of beer, he heard the click of the answering machine and his mother's distinctive "Hi, Nate," the "hi" an octave higher in pitch than his name. "We can't wait to see you at commencement tomorrow-nine o'clock sharp, remember."

"Leave it," Nate commanded Rachel and Clarissa, who were likely to pick up the house phone and talk with his mom for twenty minutes before passing the phone to Nate. "She's sentimental about graduation. If it's anything urgent, she'll call my cell."

"Be nice and talk to her," Rachel, who talked to her own mother every single day, ribbed him. "She's excited for you."

"Nah, he's right," Clarissa said. "Love her to death, Nate, but I'd rather not listen to your mom wax nostalgic about how you were in diapers just yesterday while we're trying to pregame."

Rachel shrugged and busied herself setting up bottles of chasers for the vodka on the Formica countertop of the outdated rental kitchen.

Nate felt a flash of guilt, even though he'd see his parents first thing the next morning. Throughout college he'd complained about them hovering and about what he derisively called their "midwestern prudishness," but he knew he owed them for everything he had. Anyway, their only crime was to be middle-class and middle-aged, different from Rachel's Manhattan sophisticate parents and Clarissa's Chicago-born, Poland-bred extended family. But he shook his head to clear it, finding his way back to a more productive train of thought. He couldn't magically go back in time and seem more grateful for them throughout his college years; he'd start again tomorrow. Wasn't that what growing up and graduating was for anyway? Finally realizing everything your parents had done for you. Screw regrets; screw nostalgia; there would be plenty of time for those. For now, it was time to get drunk.

Rachel quickly poured out four shots of vodka. "Remember when we used to pregame together in the dorm during freshman year?" she said to them as Dev walked into the kitchen to join in. "We were so much crazier back then."

"What do you mean, we were crazy back then?" Dev interjected, passing shots around. "Speak for yourself. Nate and I PR'd at the keg stand last night."

"We did?"

"You blacked out? No wonder I had to wake you up at four. Hey, Clarissa, Nate and Dev think they're so much crazier than us."

"Let them have it. I'm an old lady now. I'm taking two shots, max."

If there was one thing he would miss, Nate thought as the first shot settled in his stomach, it was listening to his housemates talk over one another like this. It was an endless cacophony in the house almost all the time: Rachel reading Joan Didion essays aloud, even when no one was listening; Dev and Clarissa telling jokes and trying to outdo each other as their stir-fry burned, forgotten, in the kitchen. But now three of them were going to New York. Maybe it would be a lot like this, Nate thought, at first optimistically and then with a strange acid feeling in the pit of his stomach, like he'd eaten something that didn't agree with him.

“I have an idea,” Rachel announced as Clarissa began fiddling with the CD player, starting up their pregame mix. “Everyone tell your best story from college.”

“We need another shot for that,” Dev said, reaching around her for the bottle to pour them each a second round. “But I’m game. I’ll go first, obviously.”

“Because you think you’re the best storyteller?”

“I don’t think I’m the best storyteller. I am the best storyteller.”

“Let’s hear it, then.” Rachel raised her eyebrows at him. “Bottoms up.”

Dev started to talk, waving his hands and holding court, and Nate felt the warm rush of drunkenness starting to creep up his neck. He smiled. He looked around at his three roommates; his eyelids heavy, it seemed like there was an actual rosy glow to his vision.

Maybe they all felt as sentimental: Rachel leaned her head against Clarissa’s shoulder, her silky brown hair— she had about four products in their shared shower that Nate couldn’t identify— layering over Clarissa’s light strands. He had a foggy, drunken thought that he didn’t fully understand the girls, maybe never would, not the way he felt he understood Dev. The two of them smiled at each other knowingly, like they possessed the answers to questions Nate didn’t even know to ask.

Then Clarissa handed one more shot to Dev, who grinned and raised it in Nate’s direction.

“This is cheesy, but fuck it.” Nate raised his glass, too, and looked at all three of them. He found Rachel’s eyes last and kept his gaze on her. “To the rest of our lives, yeah?”

“To the rest of our lives.”

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Who We Are Now
"An unforgettable novel, populated with recognizable characters, packed with nuanced emotion, and replete with the intimately tender, relatable style that has fast become Lauryn Chamberlain’s trademark. Every lifelong friendship is its own epic tale, and Chamberlain gives these stories their due with a level of care I found incredibly moving, all while expertly weaving a diverting narrative I couldn’t put down!"—Marissa Stapley, New York Times bestselling author of Lucky

Who We Are Now transported me back to my college years and twenties in New York: I could hear the thumping club music, see the rows of cubicles, and feel each character's yearning for the day everything falls into place. Chamberlain beautifully captures the intimacy of friendship and the ache of nostalgia. Propulsive, poignant, and stylish, this is a must-read.”–Hannah Orenstein, author of Playing With Matches and Meant to be Mine
“Chamberlain masterfully portrays the complexities of friendships as they grow and change over time…Engaging and beautifully written, this story provides a poignant and insightful tale of friendship, love, and resilience. It is a must-read for anyone seeking an immersive and compelling story of young adulthood.”Booklist

"A brilliantly paced coming-of-age novel, Who We Are Now stars four memorable characters who each remind me of someone I know and love. Chamberlain beautifully captures how our relationships, dreams, and priorities shift over time, and is unflinchingly candid when describing the sticky mixture of envy and pride we feel when our friends succeed before us. This book is brimming with heart and wisdom; I'll admit I wept several times during the last few chapters, so don't say I didn't warn you!"—Caitlin Barasch, author of A Novel Obsession

Who We Are Now is an honest, insightful look at the ways in which friendships, first formed in college, continue to expand and contract through the years. Chamberlain aptly demonstrates that who we are now is, in fact, a composite of our past histories and our future desires. A relatable and engaging read.”—Karen Winn, author of Our Little World
"Who We Are Now is the compulsively readable coming-of-age tale following four friends in the early aughts of New York throughout their most formative decades. Chamberlain masterfully invokes the wistful nostalgia of that tender time post-grad, on the precipice of real life, when we’re brimming with the promise of the future, yet swathed in self-doubt. Chamberlain’s sophomore novel is a brilliant meditation on modern friendship and sophisticatedly captures how the micro decisions we make on the brink of adulthood can have macro consequences on who we ultimately become."—Louise Claire Johnson, author of Behind the Red Door

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