Goldengrove

( 11 )

Overview

At the center of Francine Prose's profoundly moving new novel is a young girl facing the consequences of sudden loss after the death of her sister. As her parents drift toward their own risky consolations, thirteen-year-old Nico is left alone to grope toward understanding and clarity, falling into a seductive, dangerous relationship with her sister's enigmatic boyfriend.

Over one haunted summer, Nico must face that life-changing moment when children realize their parents can no ...

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Goldengrove: A Novel

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Overview

At the center of Francine Prose's profoundly moving new novel is a young girl facing the consequences of sudden loss after the death of her sister. As her parents drift toward their own risky consolations, thirteen-year-old Nico is left alone to grope toward understanding and clarity, falling into a seductive, dangerous relationship with her sister's enigmatic boyfriend.

Over one haunted summer, Nico must face that life-changing moment when children realize their parents can no longer help them. She learns about the power of art, of time and place, the mystery of loss and recovery. But for all the darkness at the novel's heart, the narrative itself is radiant with the lightness of summer and charged by the restless sexual tension of teenage life.

Goldengrove takes its place among the great novels of adolescence, beside Henry James's The Awkward Age and L. P. Hartley's The Go-Between.

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
[Prose's] modest-sounding book turns out to be beautifully wrought. And it blossoms into a smart, gimlet-eyed account of what 13-year-old Nico sees happening around her after the loss of the more alluring, glamorous and manipulative Margaret. Nico's experience goes well beyond the realms of adolescence and family dynamics and yields an unexpectedly rich, tart, eye-opening sense of Nico's world…Goldengrove is one of Ms. Prose's gentler books—far more so than the bitingly satirical A Changed Man. But it's not a sentimental one. It draws the reader into and then out of "that hushed and watery border zone where we live alongside the dead," and it does this with mostly effortless narrative verve. And it scorns the bathos of its genre, so it does not become an invitation to wallow in suffering. It prefers the comforts of strength, growth and forward motion.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
Nico is such a dynamic, unsettled character that she compels us through a story that could have been grim and static…What's surprising about Goldengrove is how exciting it becomes. Margaret's hunky boyfriend never paid Nico much attention before, but in the throes of his sorrow, he seeks her out. Despite the age difference, the two of them discover that their shared loss provides the basis for a comforting friendship. It's also charged with an unsettling element of eroticism, and here Prose is at her very best, ratcheting up the creepy elements of this relationship. Again and again, she tempts us to suspect that Nico is in real danger only to reassure us a moment later that she's safe and sound. It's a perfect blend of the 13-year-old's persistent innocence and erratic shrewdness, all wildly confused by grief and sexual attraction. The result is a gripping crisis with strong allusions to Hitchcock's "Vertigo."
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

In Prose's deeply touching and absorbing 15th novel, narrator Nico, 13, comes upon Gerard Manley Hopkins's "Spring and Fall" (which opens "Margaret, are you grieving/ Over Goldengrove unleaving?") in her father's upstate New York bookstore, also named Goldengrove. It's the summer after her adored older sister, Margaret-possessed of beauty, a lovely singing voice and a poetic nature-casually dove from a rowboat in a nearby lake and drowned. In emotive detail, Nico relates the subsequent events of that summer. Nico was a willing confidant and decoy in Margaret's clandestine romance with a high school classmate, Aaron, and Nico now finds that she and Aaron are drawn to each other in their mutual bereavement. Unhinged by grief, Nico's parents are distracted and careless in their oversight of Nico, and Nico is deep in perilous waters before she realizes that she is out of her depth. Prose eschews her familiar satiric mode. She fluidly maintains Nico's tender insights into the human condition as Nico comes to discover her own way of growing up and moving on. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

The summer her older sister, Margaret, drowns, 13yearold Nico, her parents, and Margaret's boyfriend, Aaron, each plunge into lonely cells of inconsolable grief. When Aaron reaches out to Nico, she's left to interpret the high school senior's increasingly creepy overtures on her own. The adolescent dialog by Prose, winner of the 2008 Edith Wharton Achievement Award for Literature and a 2004 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age honoree (for After), resounds with authenticity. Actress Mamie Gummer (Meryl Streep's daughter) conveys Nico's innocence and vulnerability without sentimentality. Recommended both for public library YA and adult fiction collections. [Also available from Recorded Bks. 7 CDs. library ed. unabridged. 8 hrs. ISBN 9781436158459
—Judith Robinson

School Library Journal

Adult/High School

An evocative, emotionally rich story of female adolescence and grief. Nico, the 13-year-old protagonist, lives a life of ease in her family's lake house. Her parents are well-intentioned and progressive. Her older sister is in many ways the center of Nico's universe-Nico is fascinated by Margaret's beauty, her cigarette habit, and her femininity. There is obvious love between the two of them, and a shared intelligence and wit that manifests itself in their conversation. Because Nico's awe of her sister is evident from the start, the situation is all the more painful when Margaret drowns. The narrative then focuses on Nico's grief, her attempt to reconcile her sadness with her growing feelings for Margaret's brooding boyfriend, and the family's attempt to redefine itself. As usual, Prose's writing is spot-on: she conveys the psychological turmoil of the situation with stark, simple language and tempers the sadness with moments of dry humor. Nico has a decidedly adult voice, but teen readers will nevertheless appreciate her wisdom and her confusion, her selfishness and her budding sexuality. The author taps into the deepest corners of her characters' minds and spins a hook-filled plot around a complex protagonist. Fans of Sarah Dessen, Sara Zarr, and Deb Caletti will enjoy Goldengrove immensely.-Caitlin Fralick, Ottawa Public Library, ON

Kirkus Reviews
The emotional challenges of adolescence are exacerbated by the ordeal of bereavement in Prose's plaintive novel (A Changed Man, 2005, etc.). The stage is set in a first chapter that details the relationship between 13-year-old narrator Nico and her beautiful older sister Margaret, a headstrong charmer who channels the auras of romantic movies and popular songs into a vibrant personality that Nico simultaneously adores and despairs of ever equaling. Then the unthinkable happens. Margaret perishes in a boating accident (on a lake in upstate New York), and Nico is thrust into the maelstrom of grief that afflicts her sister's artistically gifted boyfriend Aaron, her angry and self-pitying mother and her stoical father (owner of the bookstore in which Nico, while browsing, discovers the limpid Gerard Manley Hopkins poem that gave Margaret her name and-Nico surmises-may have influenced her fate). Though less fully plotted than it might be, this moving novel succeeds by sticking closely to Nico's stormy emotions, as she explores the newly aroused fears that redefine her relationship with her parents, while learning on the fly to deal with Aaron's borderline-creepy appropriation of her attention (drawing her into "our hopeless love triangle with the dead"). And Prose gives it a persuasive further dimension in the leitmotif of the historical incident that obsesses Nico's father: the story of a doomsday cult that anticipated the end of the world and awaited the occurrence on a remote promontory thereafter known as Disappointment Hill. As a lucid and moving chronicle of growing up baffled and challenged, this novel is energized by a thoughtful quality of impertinent wit that sometimes recalls J.D.Salinger in his heyday (though many readers will be reminded even more strongly of L.P. Hartley's novel The Go-Between and Ian McEwan's contemporary classic Atonement). Arguably a tad too wistfully meditative, Prose's latest novel nevertheless charms and persuades.
Elle
“Francine Prose’s new novel is a quiet, clear-eyed, sun-dappled eulogy to lost youth, and a youth lost. . . . [Prose is ] a keen chronicler of human emotion.”
O Magazine
"An exploration of the fragility of adolescent identity and the perilous undertow of grief"
Booklist
"...emotionally authentic...a ravishing novel of the mystery of death and life’s assertion."
Elle
“Francine Prose’s new novel is a quiet, clear-eyed, sun-dappled eulogy to lost youth, and a youth lost. . . . [Prose is ] a keen chronicler of human emotion.”
Booklist (starred review)
“...emotionally authentic...a ravishing novel of the mystery of death and life’s assertion.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Beautifully crafted...perhaps her most emotionally satisfying novel.”
Hartford Courant
“A poignant account of growing up amid sorrow...a tender and moving story of adolescent love.”
O magazine
“An exploration of the fragility of adolescent identity and the perilous undertow of grief”
Los Angeles Times
“With a dazzling mix of directness and metaphor, Prose captures the centrifugal and isolating force of grief...Prose exquisitely renders her characters’ grief and bafflement.”
New York Times
“Ms. Prose is perceptive. . . . Her modest-sounding book turns out to be beautifully wrought.... and yields an unexpectedly rich, tart, eye-opening sense of Nico’s world.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“With perfect pitch and no trace of sentimentality, Prose . . . lands on the precise emotional key for this novel . . . allowing humor and compassion to seep through the cracks of an otherwise dark tale.”
Chicago Tribune
“Prose locates the life force that gives her narrator the quirky, irreverent but undeniable sound of a survivor. . . . Prose is tremendously skilled.”
Entertainment Weekly
“A page-turner, thanks to its wholly identifiable, and perfectly flawed, young heroine. A-”
Deseret Morning News
“Prose creates characters with real flaws that make the reader both love and hate them. It is easy to put oneself in the position of any of the players...”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Prose holds up a mirror to grief and family life we can’t look away from, revealing their truths on page after page, in beautifully crafted writing.”
Miami Herald
“Prose’s skillful rendering of the human ability to accept hard truths and move on is a poignant lesson for us all.”
Seattle Times
“Arguably, “Goldengrove” is her best book yet.”
Redbook Magazine
“A beautiful narrative that defines resilience as the sometimes heartbreaking act of simply living”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Insightful, lyrical... “Goldengrove” is beautifully and simply written...a moving portrait of the search for identity through a landscape of pain and loss.”
The Barnes & Noble Review
The title of Francine Prose's novel Goldengrove is taken from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins about a young girl, Margaret, who mourns the end of summer: "Goldengrove's unleaving." The story centers on the aftermath of the drowning death of a 17-year-old, also named Margaret, in present-day Upstate New York, and in particular her family's emotional struggle in its wake. As one might expect, her father, Henry, regrets naming her after a girl in a poem about death. "I used to love that poem. Fleeting youth, mortality, time, age, innocence -- the whole metaphysical enchilada. What did I think life was going to be, some kind of...English paper?"

The story is narrated by Margaret's sister, Nico, who at 13 is not inclined to unwrap any metaphysical enchiladas. Nico has a logical, scientific bent and struggles to understand her more dramatic sister, a singer who was deemed a poet with a surreal sense of humor. While Joan Didion limited herself to a year of magical thinking in her nonfiction exploration of bereavement, Prose's Nico only allows a few months' swirling in supernatural shock before coming to her empirical senses.

But what a summer. While her mother, Daisy, becomes a zoned-out pill head and her father distracts himself looking for "doomsday vibrations" while researching end-of-the-world cults for the book he's writing, Nico is on her own. In a sense, she always has been: her parents are self-involved ex-hippies who offer vague theoretical advice in lieu of parenting. "They often talked as if the four of us were involved in some group child-raising project, as if treating us like semi adults would make us do what they wanted." Here, the book snickers at easy-target ex-hippies without offering insight into their anxieties, and its rote references to the threat of ecological disaster risk sliding into glib cultural code.

Daisy vacillates between numbness and irrational fury, and Prose's trademark wit is at its keenest when observing this character. She's kinder to Henry, who is more sympathetic and complex. He establishes routines with Nico that help them get through the slow and tragic moments that are the survivors' lot but fails to notice her slide into dangerous emotional territory.

There is no real plot; the story's arc is the spread of grief and the unsteady return to life after the loss of a loved one. The writing is most impressive when Prose details the experience of grief, artfully creating an atmosphere drenched with emotions that are universal but never clichéd. Margaret was Nico's hero, mentor, and advocate, and her loss is unbearable. Nico, who sees herself as a chubby, plain girl whom boys treat "like a window through which they kept looking for a hotter girl with bigger breasts," was in awe of her sister's beauty and confidence. Although Prose is a genius at portraying the inner world of insecurity and self-doubt, there are too many times when overly explanatory repetition intrudes. This reminiscing narration clashes with what feels truly real in teenage Nico and makes her sound implausibly wise beyond her years.

But anyone who has mourned deeply will relate to her swerves from mundane shock ("I couldn't remember simple words, the purposes of household objects") to the vertiginous quest for the ghost of her sister. In a turn that comes as a surprise, Nico receives actual waking visitations and omens, as well as messages in dreams. Unfortunately, after she drops her desire for contact with the beyond, these events seem like mere spiritual seasoning.

Nico gets into trouble when she and Margaret's bereft boyfriend, Aaron, start meeting in secret to comfort each other. "Maybe it was possible to decontaminate certain activities, the way flood victims wash the silt off family treasures and set them back on the mantel." A well-timed few weeks' growth spurt and grief-induced weight loss cause Nico to resemble Margaret so strongly that Aaron's intentions toward her veer into selfishness. He induces Nico to wear her older sister's clothes and perfume, and to reenact scenes he shared with Margaret.

As the sexual tension and secrecy build, so does the suspense. Being with Aaron, who is a painter, expands Nico's artistic and imaginative sensibilities but draws her ever closer to losing her virginity in a stinking cabin to an older boy who is using her. Is Aaron a "squirrelly little adonis" with a "screw loose," as Henry calls him, a young man driven mad with grief, or someone more sinister? Wisely, Prose doesn't define him and is equally compassionate toward Nico and the mistakes she makes, addled by obsessive desire and the real fear that she is losing herself in an attempt to become her sister.

The nagging problem is that her sister's personality is also borrowed -- from old movie gestures and bluesy chanteuses -- and not developed enough before her death for her to be more than a pretty blonde in a series of vintage poses. The novel is a tightly woven basket of loss, with its symbolic connections precisely tied, but at the center of this emptiness there is another hole: Margaret. It's impossible to feel sad about a too-perfect character I barely know.

By bathing Margaret in light with no shadows, Prose manipulates the reader into becoming the same type of unhelpful person the narrator dislikes: someone who tries to comfort a mourner by relating her own tale of loss. To stay engaged I had to make a raft of my own missing persons or drown in disconnection. Maybe that's the point: The poem makes it clear that grief is about the griever, the sense of loneliness, not about the loved one. "Now no matter, child, the name: / Sorrow's springs are the same." However, this piece of solipsism glosses over the uniqueness of the departed and a relationship that is gone forever.

At the end, it is revealed, summarily, that the narrator is a grown woman, a geologist with a husband and children of her own, which explains the often precocious and prim tone taken by her supposedly younger self. This decision keeps the book out of the Young Adult category but also results in an uneven voice that keeps the reader off balance. I would like to know how Nico resolved herself so neatly into an adult, one who remarks, "It makes sense that birth and death are what people have in common. They want to think it can teach them something they can pass on to someone else." The inference that they are wrong has a chilly clarity -- like a lake where few would dare to swim. --Shannon Rothenberger Flynn

Shannon Rothenberger Flynn is an author of nonfiction on Native American subjects. She is writing a novel.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060560027
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/8/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 597,504
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Francine Prose

Francine Prose is the author of twenty works of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, a Director's Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, Prose is a former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She lives in New York City.

Biography

When it comes to an author as eclectic as Francine Prose, it's difficult to find the unifying thread in her work. But, if one were to examine her entire oeuvre—from novels and short stories to essays and criticism—a love of reading would seem to be the animating force. That may not seem extraordinary, especially for a writer, but Prose is uncommonly passionate about the link between reading and writing. "I've always read," she confessed in a 1998 interview with Atlantic Unbound. "I started when I was four years old and just didn't stop…The only reason I wanted to be a writer was because I was such an avid reader." (In 2006, she produced an entire book on the subject—a nuts-and-bolts primer entitled Reading Like a Writer, in which she uses excerpts from classic and contemporary literature to illustrate her personal notions of literary excellence.)

If Prose is specific about the kind of writing she, herself, likes to read, she's equally voluble about what puts her off. She is particularly vexed by "obvious, tired clichés; lazy, ungrammatical writing; implausible plot turns." Unsurprisingly, all of these are notably absent in her own work. Even when she explores tried-and-true literary conventions—such as the illicit romantic relationship at the heart of her best known novel, Blue Angel—she livens them with wit and irony. She even borrowed her title from the famous Josef von Sternberg film dealing with a similar subject.

As biting and clever as she is, Prose cringes whenever her work is referred to as satire. She explained to Barnes & Noble.com, "Satirical to me means one-dimensional characters…whereas, I think of myself as a novelist who happens to be funny—who's writing characters that are as rounded and artfully developed as the writers of tragic novels."

Prose's assessment of her own work is pretty accurate. Although her subject matter is often ripe for satire (religious fanaticism in Household Saints, tabloid journalism in Bigfoot Dreams, upper-class pretensions in Primitive People), etc.), she takes care to invest her characters with humanity and approaches them with respect. "I really do love my characters," she says, "but I feel that I want to take a very hard look at them. I don't find them guilty of anything I'm not guilty of myself."

Best known for her fiction, Prose has also written literary criticism for The New York Times, art criticism for The Wall Street Journal, and children's books based on Jewish folklore, all of it infused with her alchemic blend of humor, insight,and intelligence.

Good To Know

Prose rarely wastes an idea. In Blue Angel, the novel that the character Angela is writing is actually a discarded novel that Prose started before stopping because, in her own words, "it seemed so juvenile to me."

While she once had no problem slamming a book in one of her literary critiques, these days Prose has resolved to only review books that she actually likes. The ones that don't adhere to her high standards are simply returned to the senders.

Prose's novel Household Saints was adapted into an excellent film starring Tracey Ullman, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Lili Taylor in 1993.

Another novel, The Glorious Ones, was adapted into a musical.

In 2002, Prose published The Lives of the Muses, an intriguing hybrid of biography, philosophy, and gender studies that examines nine women who inspired famous artists and thinkers—from John Lennon's wife Yoko Ono to Alice Liddell, the child who enchanted Lewis Carroll.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 1, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Radcliffe College, 1968

Read an Excerpt

Goldengrove
A Novel

Chapter One

We lived on the shore of Mirror Lake, and for many years our lives were as calm and transparent as its waters. Our old house followed the curve of the bank, in segments, like a train, each room and screened porch added on, one by one, decade by decade.

When I think of that time, I picture the four of us wading in the shallows, admiring our reflections in the glassy, motionless lake. Then something—a pebble, a raindrop—breaks the surface and shatters the mirror. A ripple reaches the distant bank. Our years of bad luck begin.

That was how Margaret would have thought. My sister was the poet.

I was Miss One-Thing-After-the-Next. Which is how I remember what happened.

But that's not how it happened at all. One thing happened, then everything else, like a domino falling and setting off a collapse that snakes out toward the horizon and spills over into the future.

If all the clocks and calendars vanished, children would still know when Sunday came. They would still feel that suck of dead air, that hollow vacuum created when time slips behind a curtain, when the minutes quit their orderly tick and ooze away, one by one. Colors are muted, a jellylike haze hovers and blurs the landscape. The phone doesn't ring, and the rest of the world hides and conspires to pretend that everyone's baking cookies or watching the game on TV. Then Monday arrives, and the comforting racket starts up all over again.

Even before that Sunday, I was glad to see the day end. It wasn't that I liked school so much, but the weekends lasted forever. The loneliness, the hours to fill with books, homework,computer, watching old films with my sister, if she was in the mood. Silence, then the Sunday sounds of our house by the lake. My mother playing the piano, my dad's prehistoric Selectric.

That Sunday, that first Sunday in May, was so warm I couldn't help wondering: Was it simply a beautiful day, or a symptom of global warming? Even the trees looked uncomfortable, naked and embarrassed, as if they were all simultaneously having that dream in which you look down and realize you've forgotten to put on your clothes.

Two Cleopatras in our royal barge, my sister and I reclined and let our little rowboat drift out onto the lake. Margaret arched her shoulders, flung one arm over the side, and trailed her fingertips in the water. It was one of those actressy gestures she'd copied from the classic black-and-white movies to which she was addicted. She liked me to watch them with her, and we were allowed to stay up, because our mother said we would learn more from Some Like It Hot than from a year of school. It was often hard to tell what our mother meant, exactly, except that we learned to flutter our lashes and say, "What's a girl to do?" in breathy little-girl whispers.

One thing Margaret and I had in common was: we could do imitations. We knew whole scenes by heart, like the end of Flying Deuces, when Hardy is killed in a plane crash and then reincarnated as a horse with a black mustache and a bowler hat. Laurel's so happy to see him he throws his arms around Ollie—that is, the horse possessed by Ollie's grumpy spirit.

Sometimes Margaret would do a gesture or line and ask me what film it was from. Her silvery laughter was my prize for getting it right. The only rowboat scene I knew was the one in which Montgomery Clift pushes Shelley Winters into the water. And I was pretty certain that wasn't what Margaret was doing.

Margaret said, "This is heaven."

I wished I could have been like her instead of the kind of person who said, "Don't you ever worry about the polar ice caps melting?"

"Debbie Downer," said Margaret. "Give yourself a break. It's Sunday, Nico. Take a day off." Squinting, she aimed her smoke rings so that they encircled the sun like foggy auras.

Margaret had promised our parents she wouldn't smoke. Mom's parents and Dad's father had all died young of smoking-related causes. Both of our parents used to smoke. Their friends had started dying. The new weapon in the arsenal of Mom and Dad's War on Smoking was some bad news we'd gotten that fall: Margaret had a heart condition. A mild one, but I worried.

She'd fainted the first and last time Mom talked us into doing yoga with her. I still have a photo my father took that day on the lawn, of the three of us doing downward-facing dog or some other mortifying position that, our mother had convinced herself, was helping her arthritis. Margaret, Mom, and I are bent till our heads nearly touch the ground, like those snakes that, Margaret told me, bite their tails and roll after the children they swallow whole. Planted apart for balance, our legs take up most of the photo, downward-facing croquet hoops of descending sizes. What the picture doesn't show is that, seconds after it was taken, Margaret collapsed in a pile of leaves. At first we'd thought she was joking.

Our pediatrician, Dr. Viscott, ran some tests and said that Margaret should eat well, exercise, don't smoke. That stutter on her heart graph was something they'd keep their eye on.

Margaret knew she could smoke around me. Smoking was the least of the things she trusted me to keep secret.

From across the lake, we heard our mother practicing the spooky Chopin waltz that always made me think of ballroom dance music for ghosts. She kept making mistakes and starting over again. She'd wanted to be a pianist, she'd gone to music school, but she changed her plans when she met my dad and they ran off to be hippies. Margaret had found a snapshot of them picking soybeans on a commune in northern California. Long hair, overalls, bandannas, a Jesus beard on Dad.

Goldengrove
A Novel
. Copyright © by Francine Prose. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A story about a family coming to terms with their grief. Haunting yet hopeful at times.

    The Short of It:

    An unsettling look at what happens to a family when a loved one is suddenly no more.

    The Rest of It:

    I've often wondered about death. Death that results from illness is quite different than a death that results from an accident or a sudden heart attack. In this novel, Margaret dies suddenly. Her family has no time to prepare themselves for the loss and for Nico, Margaret's younger sister, it's as if Margaret is there one minute and gone the next. How does a family deal with such a loss?

    As Nico struggles with her grief, she realizes that Aaron, Margaret's boyfriend is really the only person that understands what she is going through. They form an unlikely friendship which at times seems inappropriate but seeing what these two have been through, and what Margaret meant to them, all I saw were two people in a lot of pain trying desperately to overcome their grief.

    Francine Prose does a remarkable job of describing what Nico is feeling and although Margaret was not on the page for long, you definitely get a feel for her personality as these characters look back on their moments with her. Many have said that Nico seems older than her thirteen years. This may be true, but to me she came across as an 'old soul' which made her relationship with Aaron a bit easier for me to understand.

    As Prose takes us through the novel, Nico sees signs that Margaret is still with her. I've always been fascinated by signs. They function as a form of comfort and generally exist to help us through a crisis. Prose does a wonderful job of providing comfort to Nico in the way of signs and whether or not you believe they exist in real life doesn't really matter, because they exist realistically within the novel.

    I had one small quibble with Aaron. At the beginning of the novel, a comment is made which might lead the reader to think that all is not right with Aaron. As I was reading, I kept waiting for that secret to be revealed but in my opinion nothing was revealed. I felt that his actions were motivated by his loss so perhaps I missed something there.

    This novel was a very quick read. Once I started it, I could not put it down. The prose was easy to follow and I cared about the characters and what they were going through. This was my first experience with Prose's writing style but it definitely won't be my last.

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  • Posted September 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Beautiful and touching

    Goldengrove by Francine Prose
    Thirteen year old Nico plans to spend the summer with her sister before Margaret leaves for college. But Margaret drowns quietly in the lake and Nico is left stunned and devastated. She is unable to deal with anything that reminds her of Margaret until her sister's boyfriend, Aaron, suggests an experiment, that they together do the things that Margaret loved. Margaret, who could sing "My Funny Valentine" and bring people to tears, who loved jazz, poetry, and old movies. Nico's parents never approved of Aaron, so Nico has to sneak behind their backs. But her mother is busy self-medicating and her father, who owns a bookstore, is writing a book about how cultures imagine the end of the world. But Nico starts to get in over her head with Aaron, and is torn between her sister's identity and her own.


    Goldengrove is a beautifully written novel dealing with family grief and coming of age. While the plot suggests a depressing read, it isn't in the hands of Prose. It is moving and touching and hopeful. While her parents have their own issues, they are not neglectful and Nico has a very close relationship with her dad. Though their world has been shattered, they do attempt family normalcy. Nico and her dad eat lunch daily, before she goes to work afternoons in Goldengrove, the family bookstore and he discussed his book with her. Margaret had a heart problem and Nico is convinced she does, too and reads medical books while her dad writes, trying to diagnose herself, convinced she is dying. The only thing she looks forward to is spending time with Aaron, reminiscing about Margaret. But Aaron is looking for Nico to be Margaret.

    Nico is an interesting, sympathetic character, wise beyond her years, coping with a horrible loss. There are no real dramatic moments in this novel, but it is not a slow read. The words are lyrical and poetic. "When I think of that time, I picture the four of us wading in the shallows, admiring our reflections in the glassy, motionless lake. Then something -a pebble, a raindrop- breaks the surface and shatters the mirror. A ripple reaches the distant bank. Our years of bad luck begin."


    I have never read anything by Francine Prose before and discovered that she has written several novels. I plan to read more works by her in the future. I highly recommend this touching story.
    http://bookmagic418.blogspot.com/

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  • Posted September 3, 2009

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    is is a fascinating look at dealing (or not) with the sudden unexpected death of a love one.

    In the summer in Mirror Lake in the northeast, seventeen year old Margaret drowns. Her family reacts differently to the accident though each mourns their loss. Her father regrets naming his daughter after a girl who mourns the loss of summer in "Spring and Fall: To a Young Child" by Gerard Manley Hopkins and to escape his grief and remorse turns to end of the world scenarios on the latest book he will never finish. Her younger sister Nico tries to put a scientific spin to her feelings of loss while writing down how she and her parents react; even in death Nico still struggles with understanding her late older sibling's penchant for the dramatic like a poet out of control yet at the same worshiped Margaret's overt confidence. Their mother Daisy turns to pills as she buries her soul with the body of her oldest child.

    At times Nico notes her parents act like they still have two children at home with conversations as if Margaret will respond. Each grieves the loss differently and separately.

    Although Nico seems more the adult than her parents, this is a fascinating look at dealing (or not) with the sudden unexpected death of a love one. None of Margaret's family was prepared obviously for the drowning. Although totally a character study with an extremely thin plot, fans will enjoy Francine prose's (great surname for a novelist) fine probing prose of the debilitation caused by hiding in the early phases of grief as if expecting the dead person to reanimate.

    Harriet Klausner

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  • Posted October 28, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Difficult

    When I began reading this book, I thought that it was good, with developed characters and a tragic beginning. The human experience is interesting, and this novel explores a family's grief through the eyes of a 12 year old girl. I thought that the main character's voice was a bit mature to be a believable 12 year old. BUT the allusions to great films and characters was nice. There is a great appreciation in this novel for the Classic form. I wish there was more plot development, though i think that the major focus was to show how grief affects individuals within a family. So, if you like to read about human drama, and can appreciate a tragic story line, this could be an interesting read for you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2008

    Not a must-buy

    The story was okay, but seemed to simply ramble. I kept waiting for something to happen. The ending was extemely anti-climatic and didn't 'finish' the story me. Felt like the author didn't know what else to say and just ended the story without wrapping it up.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2008

    Sad, drags on!

    This book has been featured in numerous magazines as a do not miss, memorable novel. I have struggled thru this novel for three weeks & that is really unusual for me. The story jumps around from present to past so the reader has a really hard time understanding the book & where the storyline is going~ (no where it seemed other than a gal depressed over the death of her older sister). I found it sad, depressing and a big let down.

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    Posted November 6, 2008

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