Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The False Friend by Myla Goldberg

"Myla Goldberg sets a steady hand upon her brow
Myla Goldberg hangs a crooked foot all upside down
Pretty hands do pretty things when pretty times arise
Seraphim and seaweed swim where stick-limbed Myla lies"
-- from Song for Myla Goldberg by The Decemberists

Myla Goldberg has officially made my list of favorite authors. She's written 5 books, but as my library only has her three novels that's all I've been able to read-- the 4th book is a non-fiction "walk in Prague" called Time's Magpie and the 5th is a children's book called Catching the Moon.

Goldberg's first novel, Bee Season, was brilliant. Eliza, the daughter of a Jewish scholar, was an average student until her talent for spelling was found. The talent takes her to the National Spelling Bee twice (unlike the movie) and she begins to study a word-related arm of Jewish Mysticism with her father, while her mother's mental health slowly breaks down and her brother explores Hinduism.

Her second novel, Wickett's Remedy, was excellent-- and managed to have a unique format, and when was the last time you saw a novel with a unique format? Exactly. Lydia Wickett and her husband begin a mail-order business in the late 19-teens, and after her husband's sudden death the 1918 influenza epidemic hits and, compelled to act, Lydia joins a (historically accurate) medical study of the deadly flu using convicts on a remote island facility. Running through the novel is fan club literature and information on QD Soda, whose secret recipe is suspiciously close to that of Wickett's Remedy. Throughout the story is also a running commentary in the margins provided by the souls of the dead, correcting or expounding on the thoughts, actions, and memories of the living characters in the story.

This newest novel, published in 2010, tells the story of Celia Durst-- a woman in her early 30s struck one day with the memory of a childhood friend, Djuna, she is convinced she saw fall down a well in the middle of the forest, not getting into a stranger's car like she told everyone after it happened. Celia returns home to tell everyone the truth, but no one believes her. As Celia goes through reconnecting with people she hasn't spoken to in 20 years, details of the moments leading up to Djuna's disappearance are brought back to light for Celia, including (and especially) their bullying of a classmate, leading to the fight between Celia and Djuna before she disappeared.

This book is an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to better understand women and their relationships to each other, and just what the hell was going on between the girls on the playground.

Parts were extremely emotional, remembering...just remembering what it was like. Goldberg so perfectly captures the delicacy and brutality of the world of young girls you have to wonder what Goldberg herself went through.

Goldberg even deftly handles what it's like watching your hometown and parents age-- it's difficult enough to live through, let alone write about.

The writing is sharp and witty, the pacing is tight, and the characters and their relationships are realistic. It packs a lot of punch in its 250 pages and I couldn't put it down.

5 stars

See Blauthor, Blauthor! for more of my reviews!

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