Paradise Park [NOOK Book]

Overview

Allegra Goodman has delighted readers with her critically acclaimed collections Total Immersion and The Family Markowitz, and her celebrated first novel, Kaaterskill Falls, which was a national bestseller and a National Book Award finalist. Now, in her much-anticipated new novel, Goodman introduces one of the most endearing, exasperating, indomitable heroines in modern literature: Sharon Spiegelman.

Abandoned by her folk-dancing partner, Gary,...
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Paradise Park

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Overview

Allegra Goodman has delighted readers with her critically acclaimed collections Total Immersion and The Family Markowitz, and her celebrated first novel, Kaaterskill Falls, which was a national bestseller and a National Book Award finalist. Now, in her much-anticipated new novel, Goodman introduces one of the most endearing, exasperating, indomitable heroines in modern literature: Sharon Spiegelman.

Abandoned by her folk-dancing partner, Gary, in a Honolulu hotel room, Sharon realizes she could return to Boston—and her estranged family—or listen to that little voice inside herself. The voice that asks: “How come Gary got to pursue his causes, while all I got to pursue was him?” Thus, with an open heart, a soul on fire, and her meager possessions (a guitar, two Indian gauze skirts, a macramé bikini, and her grandfather’s silver watch) Sharon begins her own spiritual quest. Ever the optimist, she is sure at each stage that she has struck it rich “spiritually speaking”—until she comes up empty. Then, in a karmic convergence of events, Sharon starts on the path home to Judaism. Still, even as she embraces her tradition, Sharon’s irrepressible self tugs at her sleeve. Especially when she meets Mikhail, falls truly in love at last, and discovers what even she could not imagine—her destiny.
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Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
It's too early to pick the happiest book of the year, but Allegra Goodman has set the bar pretty high with Paradise Park. This funny story of a woman's spiritual quest is so well designed for book-club discussions that the competition should just sit out for a couple of months.
The Christian Science Monitor
From The Critics
Without much going for her besides an ability to perform Israeli folk dance, Sharon Spiegelman goes on a trip to Hawaii and gets unceremoniously dumped in a cheap motel by her egomaniacal boyfriend, who has decided to wander the earth with another, richer, earth-friendly girl. So begins Goodman's touching second novel about a clueless twentysomething's quest to find meaning. The novel's first passages are its most entertaining, as Sharon falls haphazardly from one job and pseudoreligious craze to another in 1970s Hawaii. Goodman has created a hilariously clueless protagonist in Sharon—a cloudy-headed hippie given to making pronouncements like, "I'm of the holistic persuasion, man, I don't take prescriptions"—and is able to sustain most of the novel on little else than her character. The problem comes when Sharon starts trying to grow up. As Sharon's spirit calms down, Goodman, whose first novel, Kaaterskill Falls, was a finalist for the National Book Award, still pulls off some wonderful passages, but you can almost hear the air hissing out of the book as it comes to a close. That's not to say that Sharon should have gone out in a blaze of glory, but this was one character you didn't want to see settle into domesticity.
—Chris Barsanti

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Goodman's (Kaaterskill Falls) marvelous new novel involves a woman's tragicomic search for spiritual meaning, a journey as physically peripatetic as it is emotionally migratory. As always, the key to enjoying Goodman's fiction is gradual immersion. Her narratives do not feature razzle-dazzle plot twists or melodramatic peaks, just quietly eddying waves of emotions and events that slowly build to a tsunami of insight. When, in 1974, college dropout and folk dancer Sharon Spiegelman follows her lover from Boston to Hawaii, where he runs off with a new girlfriend, she begins a 22-year odyssey distinguished by an earnest (but na ve and often foolish) quest for enlightenment. Her first mystical vision of "resting in the palm of God" comes on a remote island where she has joined an environmental group; disillusionment follows. A second vision gleaned while whale watching proves similarly exhilarating, then deflating. On and on Sharon goes, bouncing from one epiphanic experience to another, changing boyfriends, menial jobs and mentors, positive each time that she has solved the puzzle of existence and ascertained her place in the world. But each new venture--whether raising marijuana; embracing a Pentecostal Christian sect, then New Age and Buddhists beliefs and practices; dropping acid; re-enrolling in college to major in comparative religions; living with Bialystocker Hasids--fails to give her lasting solace. But Sharon is learning positive truths even as she despairs of finding the answer to her cosmic questions; and her voice, a pitch-perfect mix of irreverent vernacular punctuated by hyperbolic exhilaration, is a comic triumph. Sharon's story is in essence a spiritual picaresque saga, and when she at last finds both true love and a satisfying religious commitment, she must undergo the painful test of reconnecting with her self-absorbed parents, and learn to forgive. Readers will finish the novel feeling that, given faith in the ultimate goodness of life, things can turn out right. Author tour. (Mar. 6) Forecast: Major ad/promo, including sponsorship announcements on NPR, plus a whimsical cover in an eye-catching yellow, will alert readers to Goodman's new novel; the author's golden reputation and the rave reviews this title will draw will do the rest in making this mini paradise-park of a book a well-deserved bestseller. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
It all starts with a whale-watching trip: "The sky swung back in liquid gold, the air mixed with the water.... It was a whale, but not just a whale. It was a vision. It was a vision of God." And from that moment on Sharon Spiegelman--indomitable, exasperating, ever-seeking Sharon--is on a spiritual quest. From her first days, abandoned in Honolulu by her boyfriend with only a macram bikini and a guitar to her name, to her conversion at the great Love Salvation Church (it didn't take), her months in a Buddhist temple, and, finally, her return home to Judaism, Sharon asks questions and makes mistakes but never gives up. Because she never quits, neither does the reader; because she cares so much, the reader does, too. Smoothly told with vivid descriptions, living characters, plenty of humor, and great understanding, this novel fills the heart and stretches the mind. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/00.]--Yvette Olson, City Univ. Lib., Renton, WA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Sharon Spiegelman is a folk-dancing, guitar-strumming, wisdom-seeking 20-year-old hippie fleeing social conventions and past connections when she arrives in Hawaii in 1974. For the next 20 years, she searches for her own personal paradise, trying out a series of homes, jobs, men, and religious experiences. She counts red-footed boobies and seeks God in the stars with Rich. She farms illegal crops and joins the Greater Love Salvation Church with Kekui. She sees God in the sounding of a whale with Wayne. She flies to Jerusalem to study Torah with Gary. Sharon enters each new phase of her search for Truth and Love with a completely open heart and an enthusiasm undimmed by disappointment. Ultimately her search takes her back to her roots, and she finds peace in the embrace of Mikhail and Orthodox Judaism. Goodman's quirky, endearing characters; her light touch with heavy subjects; and her skillful interweaving of humor, pain, and wisdom add up to a story that will both amuse and edify any readers wondering where to find their own paradise park.-Jan Tarasovic, West Springfield High School, Fairfax County, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Bestselling Goodman (Kaaterskill Falls, 1998, etc.) takes a bold step forward with this comic novel about a very serious spiritual quest undertaken by a narrator who's as often obnoxious as endearing. We meet Sharon Spiegelman in the mid-1970s, in Hawaii, where she and boyfriend Gary have migrated from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to save the Pacific's endangered species. But now he's taken off, leaving Sharon with a hotel bill she can't pay and"all these questions and ideas about this higher power." Over the next 19 years, mostly in Hawaii, Sharon pursues enlightenment in various forms, from joining a Pentecostal church to majoring in religion at the local university, until, about halfway through the story, she begins a slow journey back to the Judaism of her ancestors. None of this stops her from loving unsuitable men or from observing, with an exceedingly sharp eye, those purporting to dish out religious truth. (Of her control-freak Buddhist mentor:"How could you devote your whole life to contemplation . . . and still be such an asshole?") Sharon is equally aware of her own"fickle soul"; even in her most serious engagement, with the Bialystoker Hasid sect, she's unable to reconcile the mysticism she loves with regulations that are inimical to her free spirit. Or is she just lazy and undisciplined? For every astute remark, Sharon utters two pieces of post-hippie psychobabble; she's an admitted liar and (former) drug dealer; and her shamelessly manipulative letters to her estranged father and an unsympathetic professor would be revolting if they weren't so laughably ineffective. In short, Sharon is a wonderfully complex, utterly believable character, and Goodman softens none ofherunattractive qualities. Yet she's also truly, passionately seeking God, and she comes to a form of traditional-yet-customized Judaism that seems just right for her. Brilliantly crafted and pitched perfectly, which we expect from this author; but also challenging and deliberately uningratiating, which we might not.
From the Publisher
“Clear, rain-washed prose ...In Allegra Goodman's ebullient, bittersweet, plaintive Song of Sharon, the heroine’s true achievement is finding poetry in.becoming who she’s been all along.”
The New York Times Book Review

“[The] narrator, that Sharon Spiegelman, has one of the most enchanting, idiosyncratic voices since Augie March.”
The Washington Post Book World

“With Sharon Spiegelman, Goodman has created a Huck Finn for the modern age, drifting down the river of American spirituality.”
The Christian Science Monitor

“Like Saul Bellow and Philip Roth before her, Goodman has achieved a breakthrough book.”
Time

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307573711
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/21/2009
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 1,400,645
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Allegra Goodman's work has appeared in The New Yorker, Allure, Commentary, and Slate. She is the recipient of a Whiting Award and the Salon magazine award for fiction. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she is at work on her next book.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Honeycreepers

All this light was pouring in on me, and I started to open my eyes. I didn't know where in the world I was, and I reached over, but no one was there. The room was empty, and I didn't even know where the room was -- it was all just floating in empty space, and I couldn't say what planet or star I'd landed on. All that was running through me in that one second was the loneliness of being this tiny insignificant particle in the universe, and how a life weighs nothing in all that light. And what is that light compared to God? Then I woke up and it came back to me. That the guy, supposedly my boyfriend, who came out with me to this joint, a fleabag in Waikiki, was now gone, run off with a chick on her way to Fiji, and he -- actually they -- had left me with the hotel bill, which since I had no idea how to pay I was avoiding by just staying in the hotel and not checking out. But you know, the vision I had before, when I was just half awake, that was the important part. That was like the angels talking, when they speak to you and teach you right before you're born, and then they put their fingers on your lips -- Sh! Don't tell! You almost forget, but somewhere inside, you remember. At the time, that morning, I just lay there and had no idea what to do, not to mention I had never as far as I knew even believed in the existence of God. But in my subconscious, and my unconscious, and everywhere else, I had all these questions and ideas about this higher power and this divine spirit, and maybe I would have been dealing with them if I hadn't been so broke.

Finally I got up. I sat on the edge of the queen-size hotel bed. The bedspread was halfway off, sliding onto the floor, and the spread was green, printed yellow and orange with bird-of-paradise flowers so enormous they looked like some kind of dinosaur parts. The headboard was white rattan. So was the dresser and the mirror frame and the desk. There was no chair. Everything that could be nailed down was.

There I was all by myself, yet it wasn't exactly like I'd had some kind of one-night stand! We were folk dancers. That's how my boyfriend and I had met a couple of years before. Gary and I were two of the original dancers that danced in Cambridge at MIT. Balkan on Tuesdays. Israeli on Wednesdays. This was in the seventies when the folk scene in Boston was just starting, and there was a group of us -- it was our life. We'd gather together at night -- guys in cutoff shorts and girls in Indian gauze skirts, tank tops. In winter we'd strip down out of our parkas and ski hats and wool socks, and unzip until we were barefoot. I had long straight hair, light brown, and I wore it loose down to my waist, and I lived to dance in Walker Gym with my hair flying around me and my shirt against my bare skin, and the smooth gym varnish on the floor like syrup to my toes.

The music came from a tape recorder mounted on a little wooden cart painted gypsy colors, yellow and red, and stenciled in fancy green: MIT FOLK DANCE CLUB. The names of the dances were scribbled in chalk on a green chalkboard wheeled in from one of the classrooms. Then, from seven to eleven at night, we circled and wheeled and flew. We would dance like this for Balkan: twenty at a time together with our arms linked in a line, and our legs kicking and feet moving to rhythms like 7/8 or 11/16. Like this for Israeli: in concentric circles, feet flying, every other person off the ground.

Gary and I were such a pair that everybody watched us. When we left the gym it was like after a performance, all those admiring eyes. We'd walk outside in winter, and shuffle through the snow with the heat still on us, carrying our coats for blocks before we started to get cold. Just wandering in the slush and barely noticing that gradual little bit of freezing cold water that starts wicking in through the seams of your boots. We'd get home to Allston and run up the stairs to Gary's apartment -- a real find on top of a doddering Victorian house. We had a kitchenette wired up in half a hall, and a dormer bedroom, where we curled up in blankets. I used to sit for hours in bed playing my guitar, the radiator like drums behind me, bang banging away.

Originally he was the one with the traveling bug. Gary was one of those Vietnam-era graduate students, thirty-five at that time, which was '74. He was still working on a government public health grant at Harvard, and he used to cart around boxes of those manila computer punch cards. Every once in a while the profs would fire up the old computer, and they'd input their data with a clicking and a clacking till the oracle spoke, spewing out numbers on that wide paper with pale-green and white stripes. Then Gary and the other grad students would all go back to their shared offices adorned with shag carpet remnants and cork bulletin boards, and they'd ponder the numbers. Gary had been doing this for years; and since it was a longitudinal study, which meant it didn't ever end, he was getting kind of restless. But I, on the other hand, was really busy, since I was just twenty -- in the middle of stopping out of college and getting seriously into dancing and my music -- folk stuff on my guitar. I listened to Joni Mitchell and Carole King and Jackson Browne. And of course I was writing my own stuff, too, all in their same styles. I was biking over the BU Bridge to Central Square, where I was working for this antiwar, antinuclear couple, Vivica and Dan, who I'd met from dancing, and who had originally come from Berkeley. We were holed up, the three of us, in a little one-room office trying to put a stop to military spending. To me bringing peace about was pretty good. But Gary, being fifteen years older, had bigger ambitions for the planet. He started talking about how he wanted to go west.

The thing was I loved him. Not that he had a face to sink a thousand ships. He had fair skin, blinky brown eyes, shoulder-length hair, a Fu Manchu moustache. But he had beautiful feet, elastic arches. He had the longest arms of anyone I knew. And when he jumped! He could have been a pro. He could have traveled the world leaping in the air. That's the way I pictured it, him leaping and me spinning at his side. I still hadn't gotten over it, being so much younger than he was, and him choosing me to be his partner -- because my dancing was so good. And getting to live with him, which meant getting out of my dad's house and my stepmother's hair. And just realizing that Gary thought I was beautiful! It wasn't like I was plain. I wasn't plain at all. I was slender and had big black eyes, sleepy with eyeliner, and that shimmery loose hair, so when I danced I looked like a ballerina down at the hem. But I was young -- not even one-and-twenty like the guy in the poem -- and I couldn't believe Gary with his long arms and his gorgeous feet and hard muscles in his calves actually thought that I was beautiful.

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Introduction

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Paradise Park. We hope they will enrich your understanding of this wonderful novel.

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Foreword

1. What first pushes Sharon on her spiritual quest? What elements in her past life do you think contributed the most to her present journey?

2. For a long time Sharon is searching for a glimpse of God. What is getting in the way of that search as she struggles forward? Why is her quest thwarted time and time again?

3. Why do you think she was so willing at first to just go along with Gary's ambitions? Is this common for many women? Why?

4. What is the difference between her explorations of other religions and her exploration of Judaism? How are her teachers different?

5. Although a search for God is very much on Sharon's mind, it doesn't prevent her from doing things most religions consider "immoral," such as living with Kekui or sleeping with Brian. Why do you think she doesn't feel guilty about these actions? What distinction does she make between morality and God?

6. What is Sharon hoping to find while researching birds with Brian or farming with Kekui? A spiritual revelation? Something else?

7. Once in a while Sharon still slips into telling lies about her parents or her past (see p. 205). Why do you think that is?

8. Sharon has a hard time reconciling her spiritual quest with Wayne in the second half of their relationship. Wayne is very supportive of her efforts — what's missing for her?

9. Why are Mikhail and Sharon able to leave the Hasidic community so easily when the complications in their marriage contract come up?

10. What has Sharon found in Mikhail that she didn't find in her previous relationships?

11. How much responsibility do you think Sharon's parents have for her struggles to findmeaning in life? Would things have been different for her if she'd found more support at home, or was her behavior determined by her personality?

12. After spending so much time exploring Judaism, why isn't it important for them to have a Jewish wedding?

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Reading Group Guide

1. What first pushes Sharon on her spiritual quest? What elements in her past life do you think contributed the most to her present journey?

2. For a long time Sharon is searching for a glimpse of God. What is getting in the way of that search as she struggles forward? Why is her quest thwarted time and time again?

3. Why do you think she was so willing at first to just go along with Gary's ambitions? Is this common for many women? Why?

4. What is the difference between her explorations of other religions and her exploration of Judaism? How are her teachers different?

5. Although a search for God is very much on Sharon's mind, it doesn't prevent her from doing things most religions consider "immoral, " such as living with Kekui or sleeping with Brian. Why do you think she doesn't feel guilty about these actions? What distinction does she make between morality and God?

6. What is Sharon hoping to find while researching birds with Brian or farming with Kekui? A spiritual revelation? Something else?

7. Once in a while Sharon still slips into telling lies about her parents or her past (see p. 205). Why do you think that is?

8. Sharon has a hard time reconciling her spiritual quest with Wayne in the second half of their relationship. Wayne is very supportive of her efforts -- what's missing for her?

9. Why are Mikhail and Sharon able to leave the Hasidic community so easily when the complications in their marriage contract come up?

10. What has Sharon found in Mikhail that she didn't find in her previous relationships?

11. How much responsibility do you think Sharon's parents have for her struggles to find meaning inlife? Would things have been different for her if she'd found more support at home, or was her behavior determined by her personality?

12. After spending so much time exploring Judaism, why isn't it important for them to have a Jewish wedding?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 4, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Why Youth is Wasted on the Young

    My God (pun intended) how could any character, real or imagined, flail for so many years, spinning mental and physical wheels in the wind.

    Thank God (no pun intended) for Goodman's artistry. The reader could float on her prose and subtle humor. But oh, that Sharon - boring, scatter-brained, pretentious - tough reading to the end because I did not care what happened to her although an alien abduction would not have disappointed me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2001

    WHAT A DISAPPOINTMENT

    What a disappointment. I loved Kaaterskill Falls and I could not even finish Paradise Park. She tells it from her perspective now when it happened in the 1974. I hope her future book(s) is a big improvement over this one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2001

    laughed out loud

    this book was a scream. sharon reminded me of every naive searcher i've ever known. towards the end, things kind of fizzled, but the first 3/4 of the book had me in stitches. she's sure got a way with dialogue from the 70's.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews

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