“I’ve had roommates my entire life,” says writer and Town & Country editor Stephanie Wu, “starting with summer camp, then college.” As in Wu’s experience, roommates, in whatever form, are a ubiquitous presence in the lives of most people as they grow up—and it’s no surprise that most walk away with a story or a few.
When Wu was approached by Picador to edit The Roommates, the publisher’s second in its True Tales series, she didn’t have to look far for material. “Eighty percent of the stories found their way to me,” she recalls of gathering the book’s 60-plus narratives over the past year. “Friends of mine whom I’ve known for a long time said, ‘I can’t believe I’ve never told you this before…'”
The book is rife with horror stories—from bullying, to extraordinarily bad hygiene, to frozen hamsters—from adolescence to adulthood. But there’s a mixture of happier memories, too: brothers-turned-business partners, a series of unexpected friendships, and one triumphant, Taylor Swift-caliber love story.
Wu interviewed people mostly in their 20s, but talked to a few people approaching 50. Mentions of landlines or Facebook hint at approximately when an event took place. “The Widowed Escort,” for instance, touches on a woman’s pre-Craigslist era roommate search using a service called Roommate Finders, where, for a fee, customers could flip through binders of potential roommates. “I wanted to show that [this roommate experience] is universal and timeless,” explains the author.
Wu caps the series with “The Houseboy,” a story about a Ph.D invited to live with a couple rent-free in exchange for helping out with household chores. “His story resonated with me so much because it really was, I think, a 2014 story,” she says. “He had something like three degrees… I think more academics would do that if they knew that was an option.”
Whatever the options, Roommates reveals the best and worst in us all.
ROOMMATES BY STEPHANIE WU IS OUT AUGUST 5, 2014 FROM PICADOR.