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Wickett's Remedy

Wickett's Remedy

3.5 9
by Myla Goldberg

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The triumphant follow-up to the bestselling Bee Season, Wickett’s Remedy is an epic but intimate novel about a young Irish-American woman facing down tragedy during the Great Flu epidemic of 1918.

Wickett’s Remedy leads us back to Boston in the early part of the 20th century and into the world of Lydia, an Irish-American shop girl


The triumphant follow-up to the bestselling Bee Season, Wickett’s Remedy is an epic but intimate novel about a young Irish-American woman facing down tragedy during the Great Flu epidemic of 1918.

Wickett’s Remedy leads us back to Boston in the early part of the 20th century and into the world of Lydia, an Irish-American shop girl yearning for a grander world than the cramped confines of South Boston. She seems to be well on her way to the life she has dreamed of when she marries Henry Wickett, a shy medical student and the scion of a Boston Brahmin family. Soon after their wedding, however, Henry shocks Lydia by quitting medical school and creating a mail-order patent medicine called Wickett’s Remedy. And then just as the enterprise is getting off the ground, the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918 begins its deadly sweep across the world, drastically changing their lives.

In a world turned almost unrecognizable by swift and sudden tragedy, Lydia finds herself working as a nurse in an experimental ward dedicated to understanding the raging epidemic — through the use of human subjects.

Meanwhile, we follow the fate of Henry’s beloved Wickett’s Remedy as his one-time business partner steals the recipe and transforms it into QD Soda, a wildly popular soft drink.

Based on years of research and evoking actual events, Wickett’s Remedy perfectly captures the texture of the times and brings a colourful cast of characters vividly to life, including a sad and funny chorus of the dead. With wit and dexterity, Goldberg has fashioned a novel that is both charming and grand. Wickett’s Remedy announces her arrival as a major novelist.

South Boston belonged to Lydia as profoundly and wordlessly as her thimble finger. Her knowledge of its streets was more complete than any atlas, her mental maps reflecting changes that occurred from season to season, day to day, and hour to hour. Each time she left 28 D Street — one among a row of identical triple-decker houses, the tenements lining the street like so many stained teeth — her route reflected this internal almanac. . . .

For ten years this was enough. Then in fifth grade, Lydia saw a city map and realized her entire world was a mitten dangling from Boston’s sleeve. Across the bridge lay Washington Street — the longest street in all New England — which began like any other but then continued north, a single determined thread of cobblestone that wove itself through every town from Boston to Providence. Once Lydia saw Washington Street she knew she could not allow it to exist without her.
—excerpt from Wickett's Remedy

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Geraldine Brooks
Wickett's Remedy is peopled by noble working-class families who do not let the strain of poverty prevent them from reveling together in good times and succoring each other in bad. Lydia, the product of this idealized milieu, is its selfless personification, volunteering to nurse flu victims as a way of dealing with grief for her own beloved dead. Goldberg treads a fine line here: Saints can be so uninteresting. But by giving Lydia a questing intelligence and a yearning spirit, Goldberg makes her motivations lucid and plausible. Her romanticized Southie also works, in the end, as a stark foil for the brutalities of a wider world sliding into war and an imperfectly understood epidemic.
— The Washinton Post
Publishers Weekly
The author of the bestselling Bee Season returns with an accomplished but peculiarly tensionless historical novel that follows the shifting fortunes of a young Irish-American woman. Raised in tough turn-of-the-century South Boston, Lydia Kilkenny works as a shopgirl at a fancy downtown department store, where she meets shy, hypochondriacal medical student Henry Wickett. After a brief courtship, the two marry (Henry down, Lydia decidedly up) in 1914. Henry quits school to promote his eponymous remedy, whose putative healing powers have less to do with the tasty brew that Lydia concocts than with the personal letters that Henry pens to each buyer. After failing to pass the army physical as the U.S. enters WWI, Henry quickly, dramatically dies of influenza, and Lydia returns to Southie, where she watches friends, neighbors and her beloved brother die in the 1918 epidemic. A flu study that employs human subjects is being conducted on Boston Harbor's Gallups Island; lonely Lydia signs on as a nurse's assistant, and there finds a smidgen of hope and a chance at a happier future. A pastiche of other voices deepens her story: chapters close with snippets from contemporary newspapers, conversations among soldiers and documents revealing the surprising fate of Wickett's Remedy. And the dead offer margin commentary--by turns wistful, tender and corrective (and occasionally annoying). Yet as well-researched, polished and poignant as the book is, Goldberg never quite locks in her characters' mindsets, and sometimes seems adrift amid period detritus. While readers will admire Lydia, they may not feel they ever truly know her. Agent, Wendy Schmalz. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Through narrative, authentic newspaper clippings, and fictional correspondence, the author of the perfect Bee Season offers an intimate view of the life of Lydia Kilkenny, a shop clerk and daughter of Irish immigrants in South Boston in the early 20th century. She marries Henry Wickett, a frail man from a well-to-do family who intends to please his parents by becoming a doctor, although his fondest wish is to be a journalist. Realizing that he can use his writing abilities to help others, Henry spawns the idea of selling a package to the sick that includes an elixir and an encouraging letter. The elixir, created by Lydia, is meant to be a placebo; the letter is the thing intended to heal. Enter World War I, a merciless flu epidemic, and an opportunist in search of a product, and you have an epic story that is sure to become a classic. Goldberg skillfully stitches together the various pieces of a structurally complex novel, creating smooth, durable, barely-there seams. Like Bee Season, this sorrowful, humorous, and tender novel utterly satisfies. Congratulations to Goldberg on another masterpiece; highly recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/05.]-Jyna Scheeren, Troy P.L., NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-As America is on the brink of entering the Great War, Lydia Kilkenny, a Boston shopgirl, marries Henry Wickett, a young medical student. Shortly thereafter, he casts his studies aside in favor of developing a remedy to help sufferers from "hypochondriacal illnesses." His mail-order business enjoys some success, but when he contracts influenza, Lydia is suddenly left a widow. Before she has time to grieve, Americans find themselves battling a deadly pandemic. Although she has no nursing experience, Lydia feels compelled to help. She joins on as a research assistant to doctors experimenting on inmates to better understand the spread of the disease. A parallel story develops as her husband's onetime business partner steals the formula for Wickett's Remedy and develops a soft-drink empire. Goldberg's re-creation of this fascinating segment of American history is meticulously researched and well executed. Each chapter ends with period newspaper articles and letters that add to the flavor of the story and give subtle insights into unfolding events. The use of voices in the margins of the pages, however, serves more as a distraction than as an asset to the multiple tales that are woven together. The author's closing comments are powerful in their simplicity: more Americans died in this 10-month pandemic than were killed in all of the 20th-century wars.-Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Library System, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The 1918 influenza pandemic is the background for this absorbing successor to Bee Season (2000). Irish-American Lydia Kilkenny moves up from her "Southie" (i.e., South Boston) neighborhood after marrying timid medical student Henry Wickett. When Henry forsakes his studies and returns to clerical drudgery while developing a health-giving elixir (the eponymous Remedy), Lydia senses trouble-but she agrees to concoct a pleasant-tasting recipe. America enters World War I, Henry tries and fails to enlist, and dies when an "unseasonable flu" strikes Boston-having first formed a partnership with entrepreneur-distributor Quentin Driscoll (who has other plans for Wickett's Remedy). First returning to her Southie family, Lydia watches numbly as friends and relatives die, volunteers at a local hospital, then works as an untrained nurse at Gallups Island in Boston Harbor, where doctors study the virulent influenza strain by injecting it into volunteers: inmates from nearby Deer Island Naval Prison. Goldberg's opulent narrative traces the fulfillment of Lydia's deepest fears, and numerous other voices chime in: those of soldiers and sailors sworn to defeat the Kaiser; ordinary citizens enduring both the war and the epidemic; the numerous dead (rendered as acutely dramatic marginal commentary); and revelations of the history of "QD Soda" (the soft drink Driscoll derived from Lydia's recipe), its founder's pathetic decline and his successor's evasive criminality. Only the QD Soda passages (of which there are far too many) misfire in this rich historical re-creation whose energy and ingenuity evoke memories of E.L. Doctorow's classic Ragtime, Steven Millhauser's Pulitzer-winner, Martin Dressler, andThomas McMahon's forgotten picaresque mini-masterpiece McKay's Bees. A fine novel very much in the American vein, and a quantum leap forward for the gifted Goldberg.
From the Publisher
“With this second voyage out, Goldberg demonstrates her versatility, mixing research with whimsy, sensitivity with humour, satire with romance.”
The Gazette (Montreal)

“Goldberg displays a fresh, distinctive, totally winning voice.”
Publishers Weekly

“A rich historical re-creation whose energy and ingenuity evoke memories of EL Doctorow’s classic Ragtime, Stephen Milhauser’s Pulitzer Prize winner Martin Dressler and Thomas McMahon’s forgotten picturesque mini masterpiece McKay’s Bees. A fine novel …. And a quantum leap forward for the gifted Goldberg.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“An epic story that is sure to become a classic .. Like Bee Season, this sorrowful, humorous and tender novel utterly satisfies. Congratulations to Goldberg on another masterpiece.
Library Journal (starred)

Praise for Bee Season:
"Bee Season is a profound delight, an amazement, a beauty."
—Jane Hamilton, author of A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth

"An impressive debut. . . . Goldberg is a gifted writer."
Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.27(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.85(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

On D Street there was no need for alarm clocks: the drays, ever punctual, were an army storming the gates of sleep. The wooden wagons were heavy and low-riding with loud rattling wheels, their broad planks too battered and begrimed to recall distant origins as trees. Each dray was pulled by horses-two, four, or sometimes six per wagon-pound-ing down nearby Third Street. Windows rattled and ?oors shook; the sound was a giant hand shaking Lydia Kilkenny's sleeping shoulders. Each morning she did not awaken to the sound, but inside it. In winter the drays came when the sky was still dark, their pounding hooves sharp reports against the frozen cobblestones. In summer, perhaps because the sky was already pale with light, the sound of the horses seemed kinder.

When her daughter was still a wee thing, Cora Kilkenny recalls Liddie crediting the sound to God waking up all the good Catholics of D Street.

She knew the clattering wagons were bound for Boston proper, but the vague tangle of streets across the Broadway bridge surfaced in her mind with the sound of the horses and resubmerged with its diminishment. As the ?ow of drays sub-sided-the wagons no longer traveling two by two but single ?le-pounding hooves gave way to the creak of ?oorboards and the muf?ed voices of neighbors. Factory whistles blew. Church bells rang. The vegetable man made his way down D Street shouting, "Fresh tomatoes," even if there were no tomatoes, because those words distinguished him from the other vegetable men who plied their carts through Southie.

As Lydia stirred, her mother put up water for cocoa and oatmeal. By the time Lydia had the little ones dressed, Michael and their father had ?nished their morning ablutions and the washbasin was hers alone. By the time she had brushed and pinned her hair, the drays were gone. Indeterminate Boston had once again been vanquished by the certainty of Southie.

Jamie remembers the warm press of his sister's hands as she lifted him from bed and set him down beside the clothes she had waiting for him, the sound of the horses rattling inside his head like loose marbles.

South Boston belonged to Lydia as profoundly and wordlessly as her thimble ?nger. Her knowledge of its streets was more complete than any atlas, her mental maps re?ecting changes that occurred from season to season, day to day, and hour to hour. Each time she left 28 D Street-one among a row of identical triple-decker tenements lining the street like so many stained teeth-her route re?ected this internal almanac. If on a Tuesday afternoon her mother wanted ?our and jam from Hennessy's, Lydia would avoid the more direct route along Fifth Street due to her dislike of the soap grease man and his ?eshy block of laundry soap. No matter what the errand, Third Street was best avoided in early evening when the ?ood tide of drays returning to their stables posed a threat to both body and nose.

In deep winter, when ice and hard-packed snow made walking treacherous, West Broadway was the place to catch a ride on the tailboard of a snow dray delivering milk, groceries, or beer, but sledding was best saved for Dorchester Heights. If a good enough sled could be found, and if the streets were not too crowded, it was possible to start at G Street and traverse almost a quarter of the alphabet-all the way to L Street. Whether because he was luckier or a year older, Michael was the superior sledder; at her best Lydia could only make J Street before her sled or her resolve gave out.

Because Dan Kilkenny was an iceman, the whole D Street gang was in thrall to Lydia and Michael in summer. In the thick of that season there were few things more magical than ice-the blocks that emerged, impossibly, from the back of the wagon, steaming not with heat but with cold, the unmistakable stomp of the iceman conquering the stairwell, gleaming blocks of ice piled on his broad back like enormous melting diamonds. Contrary to Father O'Brian's Sunday descriptions of a place streaming with light and angel song, Lydia was certain Heaven resembled the interior of her father's ice wagon: a dark place, cool and quiet. There the salt hay, sawdust, and straw effaced the airborne tang of leather and glue from the nearby shoe factory and muted the call of the ragman.

On very hot days there was no need to confer in advance. The lot of them would be playing ball in Commonwealth Park, or ambling toward the beach at City Point, or playing marbles or Kick the Wicket on the street. Without a word Michael would turn to Lydia, or she toward him, and with a whoop they would preempt the day's pursuit and set out for ice. At the sight of Dan Kilkenny's brood, the iceman would toss out an extra block, the surplus ice arcing toward the street in a dream of captured light before exploding into frozen bliss on the cobbles. Decorum was traded for the ?eeting comfort of ice pressed into the perfect place. Frozen shatterings found their way into mouths, inside shirts and dresses, under chins, and atop closed eyes. Ice was nestled into the hollows of throats and hammocked by the webbing between ?ngers and toes. Ice bent the iron rule of summer for a few precious moments before the heat clamped down again.

Had Margaret Kelly, of 32 D Street, claimed an iceman for her da, she would not have been so lordly about it. Liddie and Mick always waited until the worst of the heat and then made them line up for Indian knuckle burns before bringing them down the right street.

For ten years, this was enough. Then in ?fth grade, Lydia saw a city map and realized her entire world was the smallest ?nger of Boston's broad hand. The hazy destination of the morning drays acquired focus. Across the bridge lay Boston Common and the swan boats of the Public Garden. Across the bridge lay Washington Street-the longest street in all New England-which began like any other but then continued south, a single, determined thread of cobblestone that wove itself through every town from Boston to Providence. Once Lydia saw Washington Street she knew she could not allow it to exist without her.

She had imagined Washington wide like West Broadway but instead it was narrower, its buildings taller. On Washington, men in blazers and boaters strutted three and four abreast and bustled women drifted cloudlike between shop-windows. The air on Washington smelled neither of factories nor piers but of occasional cigar smoke and wafting perfume. The buildings-with their marble façades and grand entranceways and their seemingly endless layers of arched win-dows-resembled fancy wedding cakes. On Washington Street there was not a clothesline in sight, not a single vegetable or ?sh man. Striped awnings stretched proudly above showcases containing objects Southie had never seen: a silk opera gown with black glass buttons, a set of tortoiseshell combs, a rocking horse with a mane of real hair. Lydia turned toward Michael-whose trolley fare she had provided from a cache of saved pennies, their passage across the Broadway bridge her eleventh birthday present to herself-and announced that this was her future.

Mick recalls only his disappointment. Before Liddie went gaga over Washington Street, they had always pooled their copper for penny fudge.

On graduating eighth grade, when her girlfriends found jobs behind sewing machines, Lydia rode to Washington Street alone and procured a position in the stockroom of Gilchrist's department store. Now every morning she had to wake before the drays in order to make the streetcar. During dreary hours of inventory and reshelving, her resolve to work on the far side of the bridge would falter, but her doubts vanished whenever she was called onto the gleaming sales ?oor. Walking among the wonders of the display rooms, she would calculate the weeks of salary required to purchase a beaded French chapeau or the impossible amount of roast ham that could be eaten in lieu of one opal earring. Rather than discouraging her, these extreme calculations bred optimism. Once she was promoted to sales, she hoped eventually to save enough so that she too could point to one of those fantastical objects and have it delivered into her outstretched hand.

Michael joked that his sister rode the streetcar every day to make up for never having outdistanced him on a sled. Though he was as immune as the rest of the family to the forces that drew her to Washington Street, he formulated a theory to explain the aberration.

"I don't know how it came to be," he informed her once it became clear she would not be abandoning her streetcar commute, "but it looks like you turned out the migrating bird in a family of pigeons." Lydia treasured his gift, picturing herself as she rode the streetcar as one of the long-necked geese whose silhouettes she observed angling south in late autumn.

On the other side of the bridge, Lydia learned the difference between a heavy tub silk and a crepe de chine shirt and the relative merits of a Norfolk versus a sacque suit. She learned that the best suit jackets were nipped in at the waist and slope-shouldered. When a counter girl was ?red for tardiness, Lydia was ready. She claimed the sales ?oor for herself.

For four years she worked behind a lustrous wood counter on the store's ground level, amid polished marble ?oors and hanging crystal lamps. Gilchrist's Tiffany rotunda gazed down from three levels above like an emerald eye. Inside her starched, white shirtwaist, her hair piled into a careful bun, she felt as if her best self lurked just beneath her skin, a shimmery ?sh that might breach the surface at any moment. Standing before a selection of men's shirts in a dazzling array of colored fabric, she could eye a man's collar size, budget, and tastes in a glance and knew, just by looking, the thread count of a cotton shirt or the origins of a piece of silk.

Maisie French, in Collars, insists the Tiffany rotunda was blue, not green.

Even after four years, she thrilled at sealing a customer's payment into a pneumatic capsule and sending it to the cashier for change. Miles and miles of pneumatic tubing crisscrossed Gilchrist's walls and ceilings. Capsules left Men's Furnishings on a current of compressed air to travel over Silks and Velvets, over Embroideries and Trimmings, past Veilings, and past Black and Colored Dress Goods. Lydia pictured her customers' sales slips speeding past counter girls whispering among themselves in Millinery, past the solitary salesgirl at Umbrellas who every day prayed for rain.

Lydia once visited the Cashier's Of?ce just to see the veritable pipe organ of commerce where each capsule arrived with a thunk, its contents scrutinized by a woman whose hands were bound to smell like money. Lydia wondered if the woman scrubbed the scent from her ?ngers each night, or if her dreams wafted with visions of wealth. Whenever Lydia retrieved a returning capsule containing a customer's correct change, she felt the cold, dry breath of the tube tickle the back of her hand. On slow days she hearkened to Gilchrist's pneumatic exhalations. After four years, she still marveled at the notion that money pumped through the store no less fervently than the blood in her veins.

The morning of Lydia's ?rst lunch with a customer, she had been standing with her back to the sales ?oor straightening stock when her attention was redirected by a neighboring counter girl, who whispered Lydia's name once the gentleman had been standing a few moments unattended. The fellow was impressively dressed for someone so clearly uncomfortable in his own skin. His clothing seemed to subsume rather than enhance his form, as if his legs were no match for worsted wool, his chest unequal to the task of imported linen. Though he was a striking man, Lydia was reminded of a child dressed with care by his mother.

Maisie does not blame Lydia for forgetting her name, as they were not particular friends-but she thinks Lydia's memory has been awfully kind to Henry Wickett. If the fellow had been a looker, Maisie would have helped him herself.

"How may I help you?" she asked, having already determined his measurements. She intended to skip straight to silk unless cotton was speci?cally requested, and then only cambric would do; Fridays were slow and the hardest days in which to meet her sales quota.

"Oh, but you see, you already have helped me," the man stammered. "I wanted to thank you. The shirt you sold me? My mother liked it very much."

Henry had not intended to speak at all. Recalling the young woman in Shirts, he had hoped only to observe her from afar. Finding her unengaged, he had approached without thinking.

"Of course!" Lydia lied with professional zeal. She racked her brain for a memory of the sale; normally she was good with faces. "I suppose you've come for another shirt," she offered. "I've just the thing. We received the shipment this week from Italy-they're brand new for the season. I'm sure you'll appreciate the quality." She hoped to convince him to buy two.

The gentleman shook his head and looked at Lydia with such regret she wondered if she had insulted him, though she could not imagine anyone taking offense at an Italian shirt. And here the gentle lie of Lydia's memory is revealed, for had Henry's features been distinctive she would not have forgotten them. Vision is memory at its most ?ckle. It is practically impossible to retain the homeliness of unfamiliar features once they have grown dear.

"Ah no," he replied with a quavering sigh. "Thanks all the same, but I don't intend to make any purchase today." He was blushing with unusual violence. "I was hoping I might accompany you to lunch. To thank you. You see, my mother really did like the shirt and she is so often hard to please. You were very kind and patient, and I thought it was the least I could do."

"You want to take me to lunch?" Lydia echoed.

Henry credits his uncharacteristic boldness to the obvious pleasure the young woman in Shirts took in even the smallest aspects of her work. Such élan could not be purchased, even at Gilchrist's.

"To thank you," the fellow repeated. Though he appeared to be in his twenties, he had the demeanor of a much older man. "For your assistance. That is, if you're permitted?" With her silence, his blush returned. "I've never done anything like this before," he mumbled. "I'm sorry. I haven't even introduced myself. My name is Henry Wickett. You can be certain of my good intentions, and if my motives prove unseemly you could easily wallop me yourself." By this time the fellow's voice had grown so soft Lydia could barely hear him above the bustle of the store.

Henry was terri?ed. In his memory of this moment, the entire store is silent save for the sound of his anxious breathing.

Lydia scanned the ?oor for the manager, but Miss Palantine so seldom left her desk that she had been dubbed "Her Royal Boulder." There were rumors Miss Palantine had been barred from sales after an incident in which she had tearfully but with some force thrown a ladies shoe at the head of a male customer after a heated exchange in Neckties. It was dif?cult for Lydia to imagine the drab, of?cious Palantine involved in passionate discourse of any sort, but then she had also been shocked to learn that Her Royal Boulder was not a spinster in her thirties, but merely twenty-three.

Invitations from customers were uncommon but not unheard of; it was not technically improper to take lunch elsewhere so long as one did not return late. Until now Lydia's curiosity had been tempered by her refusal to be an object of pity or lust. Such intent was absent in Henry Wickett who, true to his own appraisal, looked far easier to fend off than the Southie boys she had, on occasion, needed to put in their place.

"I haven't got time for a proper lunch," she replied, "but I won't say no if you don't mind being quick about it." Never had consent garnered her so sweet a smile.

As well as she knew Washington Street, she was a stranger to its early afternoon habits: Gilchrist's was a creature that inhaled its personnel in the morning and held its breath until evening. Among the businessmen and lady shoppers Lydia was revisited by the feeling, birthed by her girlhood visits, that she had arrived at the center of things. After years of close observation she had perfected her bearing. She walked with the ideal combination of con?dence and propriety, and held her chin at just the right angle. The appeal of this lunch invitation, she realized, lay in walking in such a fashion and in such company. Having studied the world of Washington Street for so long, she could now display her erudition.

Walking beside Lydia, Henry felt as if he were on parade. She moved like a living, breathing portent of Spring.

Timeliness demanded she elect Monty's, a salaryman's lunchroom convenient to the store, but once inside she wished that she and her lunch date might have promenaded longer. Monty's was a noisy place that smelled of boiled beef. Its counter was overhung with stooped diners abridging as much as possible the distance between mouth and plate. A harried plug of a man in a stained apron served as cook, waiter, and cashier and was adept at none. At the sight of Lydia Kilkenny and Henry Wickett he gestured dismissively at the restaurant's few tables. Lydia selected one in the front corner that offered a view of the street. With her back to the restaurant she could imagine she was dining in more genteel circumstances.

Though none among Us recall a different moniker, Mortimer Montague insists that the name painted on his front window was not "Monty's" but "Montague's."

"It's not much to look at," she apologized, "but I hear the food's decent. Anything fancier and I'd risk being late."

"Please order anything you like," Henry Wickett urged. As they waited to place their orders he concentrated on his ?atware, displaying the absorption of a child immersed in a private game. She waited for him to speak; she was uncertain what sort of topics gentlemen discussed over lunch and feared sounding common. At unexpected intervals Henry Wickett darted his head upward-a swimmer gasping for air-and she leaned forward in anticipation of conversation but each time was disappointed: his intention was merely to look at her before blushing and returning his gaze to the table, as if she were some brightly burning thing that could only be glimpsed at intervals.

Henry feared grinning like an idiot if he stared at her any longer.

"It was kind of you to ask me to lunch," she offered. "It's nice to get a bit of air."

"Please don't thank me," he demurred. "I'm afraid you'll ?nd I'm not very good at conversation."


"No," he con?rmed, and returned his gaze to his fork.

"Are you a student?" she attempted. Henry Wickett had small, uncallused, unscarred hands marred only by habitual nail-biting. In Southie such unused hands would be cause for embarrassment but here, across the bridge, Lydia viewed them as she might an exotic zoo specimen.

"Yes," he af?rmed, his head darting once again upward as if for a lungful of air. "I study medicine. I'm meant to be a doctor. This table is really quite interesting."

"What?" she stammered. The table was ?lmed with grease and scarred from top to bottom with the names and initials of former diners, details that had previously escaped her notice. Before she could speak, the waiter arrived to take their orders. Her dismay over the state of the table was compounded when, after ordering the daily special for herself, her companion requested only a bowl of chicken broth. "I'm sorry," she sighed. "I suppose this isn't the sort of place you're accustomed to."

"No need for apology!" Henry Wickett exclaimed. His startled hands winged upward and upended his water glass, revealing the surface of the table to be sloped in his direction. One hand enlisted an oversized handkerchief to stop the ?ow while the other righted the glass. Lydia watched, powerless as a small rivulet escaped blotting and dropped onto Henry Wickett's imported wool trousers.

Henry remembers Lydia spilling the water.

"Oh dear!" she cried, and started up from her chair with her napkin.

"Please don't!" he urged. The water was sopped, the glass righted. Henry Wickett darted a glance in Lydia's direction while his hand furtively blotted his pant leg. "Since childhood I have been allergic to most foods," he explained. He reached for his water glass and brought it to his lips: it was empty. "My stomach is quite sensitive and so in unfamiliar restaurants I order only calming liquids. And as for the table, it reminds me of an oak."

"An oak-" she echoed. She observed her re?ection in the restaurant window for the ?rst time since leaving the store. The starch had left her collar, and the bodice of her shirtwaist was deeply creased from a morning of refolding stock. Her hair had become mussed and dark shadows ringed her eyes. She was grateful her back faced the other diners. The restaurant had become strangely silent since she had risen from her seat.

"Yes!" Henry af?rmed, seemingly unconcerned or unaware of their impression on their fellow diners. "The venerable trunk of an oak, carved by generations of courtship beneath its branches-" His eyes widened. "That isn't to say-I didn't mean to imply-" But words failed him. He dabbed vehemently at the water stain on his pant leg.

Memory's egoism is often a kindness. None of Monty's regulars recall this incident.

Their food arrived. According to the restaurant clock she had ?fteen minutes in which to eat her meal and return to her counter to avoid being ?ned for lateness, precluding the possibility of further conversation. By the time she ?nished her lunch, her companion had taken barely three spoonfuls of soup but insisted he was satis?ed. After escorting her to the store's employee entrance he scurried toward the bustle of Washington Street with the single-mindedness of a mouse seeking its mousehole and Lydia assumed that was the last she would see of Henry Wickett.

Henry was too busy watching Lydia eat. This, too, reminded him of a parade. Her every gesture expressed re?nement and vivacity.

But in the days that followed, while Lydia rode the trolley or tallied receipts, Henry Wickett's image surfaced in her mind. His unexpected observation-initially forgotten in her embarrassment over spilt water and inelegant dining-now echoed in her memory. "It reminds me of an oak," she would think to herself, and the smaller details of the world would sharpen.

Once he had lost himself in the crowd, Henry allowed himself to skip, brie?y, before becoming winded.

When Henry Wickett reappeared the following Friday and asked her to lunch a second time, she was taken completely by surprise. "Are you sure?" she asked. Though pleased at the chance to re?ne her ?rst impression, she feared for Henry Wickett's digestion, as well as for his trousers. "We'd have to go to Monty's again."

"I've come prepared this time," he replied, and pulled three handkerchiefs from his pocket. Lydia had never laughed inside Gilchrist's before; until now, that pleasure had been relegated to the other side of the bridge. Henry's smile at the sound reminded Lydia how guarded most faces were. Even once the smile passed, she could see its stamp on his face in the small, light lines around the skin of his mouth and eyes, faint ripples that only graced a face that smiled often.

The handkerchiefs were a purely practical consideration. Henry had not expected his pragmatism to tender such sweet recompense.

The man behind the grease-stained apron pretended not to recognize them as they reclaimed the same window table. Though Henry's shyness and Lydia's limited time made conversation dif?cult, she learned her companion was the only son of a Roxbury businessman, his medical school career the family's ?rst chance at claiming a doctor. Henry had few friends, as his studies and uncertain health occupied most of his time. His mother had despaired of his eligibility as a bachelor and hoped his becoming a doctor would compensate for his other failings. Though Henry Wickett tended to keep his eyes downcast, when he spoke he gazed at her with a forthrightness much more common to children than to adults. His openness and gentleness-qualities she was unaccustomed to seeing in young men-convinced her that his motives for seeking her company, while mysterious, were almost certainly not dishonorable. Perhaps Henry Wickett wanted to improve his conversational skills preparatory to whatever future courtship he planned to undertake; perhaps he simply did not like to eat alone. Whatever the reason, she was happy to oblige him. In poignant tones she described to her brothers the poor fellow she had begun accompanying to lunch each Friday, her depiction so woeful that all save Michael assumed an act of charity for a man greatly advanced in age.

Mortimer Montague made it his business not to recognize anybody. He looked at shoes, not faces.

The ?rst letter arrived by courier on a Wednesday afternoon. She was certain some mistake had been made, but the messenger's docket read: "To Miss Lydia Kilkenny, Who Works Behind the Shirt Counter in the Gilchrist Department Store." On D Street very occasional letters arrived from a distant cousin in County Cork and Michael had once written to Babe Ruth for an autographed photo, but never in her life had Lydia received an envelope bearing her name. Before an audience of gawking counter girls, she signed for the post with a pale, trembling hand; she was certain only bad news traveled with such pomp. From his pouch the courier withdrew an elegant envelope of cream-colored linen, embossed with a wax seal depicting the silhouette of a bird in ?ight. The nearest thing to it that Lydia had ever seen was the certi?cate she had received con?rming her successful graduation from the eighth grade. To avoid breaking the wax seal, which seemed too ?ne a thing to corrupt, she slit the side of the envelope with a hatpin. The words were penned in a clear, elegant hand, in even lines of dark blue ink across a single, powder blue page:

Fond repetition is amnesia's adversary. To this day each word of Henry's letter retains its savor.

Dearest Lydia, I am certain you did not expect to hear from me so soon after yet another lunch in which you valiantly carried the day while I sat frozen like some awkward creature made of sticks. Oh Lydia, forgive me, but I have always felt so much more myself on paper. I have ceased to seek reasons for this odd truth: I accept I am a man of letters, my heart ?lled with ink. If I am to hold any hope of winning you, this is something you must know.

Lydia, I am changed from the poor wretch you took in hand in the Gilchrist's Men's Department six short weeks ago. That man was a trembling creature too overwhelmed by the world to think he might ever carve his own bit of happiness from it, a man resigned to a solitary life lit only by the lamp of his studies. His desire to help others did not extend to the belief he could help himself-but Lydia, you have changed that. You have revealed a world in which some measure of shared happiness is reserved even for life's humblest creatures, so long as they have the courage to lay claim to it when it comes.

You are my happiness, Lydia. The joy with which you move through the world is infectious, reminding me of the pleasure to be found in even life's smallest facets. Please know as I sit mute and uncompanionable by your side I am silently praising your person and all its ?ne attributes: even as I write this I am gathering strength for a day when I might speak aloud the thoughts and feelings presently prisoned by the narrow chamber of my pen.

Yours in heart and mind, Henry Wickett

Her hand began to tremble, forcing her to place the letter on the counter in order to read it again. In demeanor Henry was unchanged from the fellow who had, with such dif?culty, ?rst requested her company. And yet the idea of a courtship ?lled her with a sense of imminence, as if she housed an embryonic chick pecking with its egg tooth against the inner surface of its shell. Henry was different from the D Street boys who took her to the Imperial for the Sunday matinee, or to Castle Island for doughnuts and fried clams-boys with rough hands and loud voices for whom a table was only ever a table and never a tree.

Seeing as she was the cause for the couple's acquaintance, Maisie thinks it stingy of Lydia not once to have read the letter out loud.

Only now did she admit to herself that for several weeks, unexpected thoughts of Henry Wickett had been ?nding her. In the middle of a sale, her mind would recall his hopeful smile, or the quiet sincerity with which he spoke, or the mindfulness with which he attended her voice. With Henry's letter, she acknowledged that her thoughts of him had become a melody in the back of her mind, present even when too soft to hear.

For all the good it did him, Liam Dougherty took Liddie on a Sunday picnic where they ate off an actual tree stump.

The next evening she took extra care with her Friday shirtwaist, pressing it a second time.

"Getting ready for tomorrow's lunch?" Michael teased as she stood over the ironing board.

"He's different from you or any of the other boys here in Southie," she replied. She had not spoken this thought aloud before and the words, leaving her throat, felt like the beginning of a new season.

Friday morning, wanting to look fresh for her suitor, she conducted herself as if she were coated in a thin layer of slow-drying varnish. When ?ve minutes past his customary arrival time he had yet to appear, she was seized by an odd constricture of her throat, and went so far as to risk a dress code violation by unbuttoning her collar. He had never been late before. Then, just as she stepped from behind her counter to join the other girls in the lunchroom, she looked down the center aisle to see him walking toward her with an odd, clipped pace, his face downturned and his neck thrust inside his collar like a sheltering turtle. On reaching her counter he froze, the cords of his neck standing out from his skin as if lifting his head had become a monumental task, achievable only with the aid of ropes and pulleys. Slowly, his face rose to meet hers. The heat of his blush was almost tangible. His eyes were small moons.

Henry was not late, only terror stricken: he was at that moment hyperventilating behind a mannequin.

"Will you come to lunch?" he whispered, his lips trembling.

"I will," she answered with a shy smile and then Henry blossomed: his spine unfurled, his shoulders broadened, and his smile burst into happy bloom.

Meet the Author

Myla Goldberg is the author of the bestselling Bee Season, which was named a New York Times Notable Book in 2000 and is being made into a film, and, most recently, of Time’s Magpie, a book of essays about Prague. Her short stories have appeared in Harper’s, McSweeneys, and failbetter. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

From the Hardcover edition.

Brief Biography

Brooklyn, New York
Date of Birth:
November 19, 1971
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
B.A., Oberlin College, 1993

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Wickett's Remedy 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
bookaddictNC More than 1 year ago
Wickett's Remedy is one of the odder books I have read. In the midst of the story, which is quite good, the author interupts herself with asides from minor characters (or unknown characters!), odd advertisements from an imaginary beverage company, and bizzaar time-period vignettes. I cannot say it does not work; I am just not sure it is for me. I tend to be a bit more linear. I have to hand it to Myla Goldberg, Wickett's remedy is unlike any of the thousand plus books I previously read. Therefore, it deserves a reading on originality alone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Interesting but I felt it lacked a satisfactory ending, it just seemed to taper off at the end. I was engaged through the book and I learned a lot about the feel of the time and the terror of the epidemic. I also liked the comments of the ghosts that were in the margins of the books--that is what intrigued me when I heard the interview on NPR. I'm glad I read the book, but the lack of a solid ending is disappointing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you liked Bee Season, you should try this book. I went to see Myla Goldberg speak in Atlanta at Agnes Scott College and I was so amused and impressed by her speech that I bought Wickett's Remedy immediately. She was very honest about the difficulties of publishing a second book, after the success of a previous book. She takes risks in this book and she acknowledges that some readers may not like what she has done but her approach is intriguing. I enjoyed the book but I would rather read a writer who challenges herself to reach new heights than a writer who plays it safe by cranking out the same formulaic drivel. Keep writing Myla, my daughter and I will keep reading!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I heard Myla Goldberg interviewed on NPR and decided to give this a try. I love period pieces and this one really captured the essence of the 1918 flu epidemic. The only downside: several plotlines going on at once. Consequently she had a hard time finding closure to all of them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was impossible for me to put down. I usually don't like this sort of historical, emtional books, but Goldberg really makes Lydia's life relatable. Lydia immidiately sucks you into her emotional rollercoaster of a life. In the margins of the book you also get to see the imput from the vioces of the dead. These notes are often really funny. The history of Boston was also surprisingly interesting.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was impossible for me to put down. I usually don't like this sort of historical, emtional books, but Goldberg really makes Lydia's life relatable. Lydia immidiately sucks you into her emotional rollercoaster of a life. In the margins of the book you also get to see the imput from the vioces of the dead. These notes are often really funny. The history of Boston was also surprisingly interesting.