Goldengrove: A Novel

Goldengrove: A Novel

3.6 11
by Francine Prose
     
 

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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

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.

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
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.)

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Library Journal

Reading groups should gravitate to prolific writer Prose, who's never been one to eschew controversial subjects: a born-again neo-Nazi in A Changed Man, the sexually charged student/teacher relationship in National Book Award nominee Blue Angel, or the aftermath of a school shooting in the young adult novel After. Narrated by precocious 12-year-old Nico, this poignant novel explores one family's trajectory from life in a New England pastoral to lives of quiet desperation following the drowning death of Nico's older sister Margaret. Emotionally abandoned by a mother seeking solace in tranquilizers and a Walter Mitty-type father intent upon writing his tome on eschatology, Nico finds herself drawn to Margaret's artistic boyfriend, Aaron, whose grief and guilt mirrors her own. As the young couple spends unlimited, unsupervised time together, their relationship takes on a perverse quality, setting a mood of foreboding that is typical of Prose. Though wrapped up a tad too abruptly, this highly accessible novel, lightened with wry humor, is an insightful examination of the various ways people use imagination and memory to cope with devastating loss. Recommended for all public libraries, this book would also appeal to a YA audience. [See Prepub Alert, LJ5/15/08.]
—Sally Bissell

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062329035
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/29/2013
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
File size:
743 KB

Read an Excerpt

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

Meet the Author

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. Her most recent book is Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. She lives in New York City.

Brief Biography

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

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Goldengrove 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
debbook More than 1 year ago
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/
harstan More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
eeh More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.