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Goldengrove: A Novelby Francine Prose
I normally prefer Francine Prose's nonfiction, but Goldengrove is an irresistible novel. A lyrical, character-driven meditation on grief, it is also a timeless coming-of-age story that's impossible to put down.
The death of her teenage sister sends 13-year-old Nico, along with her parents, into a gigantic tailspin. All three are shocked into immobility and pain, and turn to dangerous diversions. Nico finds herself submitting uncomfortably to the strange requests of her sister's boyfriend. Francine Prose is a writer of epic proportions, and she turns this seemingly depressing story into an exquisite, spare, quiet coming-of-age tale that will stay with you.
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Fans of Francine Prose' satire will need a few moments to reorient themselves in the pages of this doleful novel about the death of a much-loved teenage girl. With "Goldengrove," the author who has so brilliantly taken on political correctness, New Age feminism, Columbine and even Elie Wiesel sheathes her acerbic wit for a searching, painful story about one family's grief. Novels... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) about grief face a special challenge, beyond their depressing subject: With the tragedy up front and the characters shocked into mourning, the story's dramatic momentum is hard to maintain. As Emily Dickinson wrote: "After great pain a formal feeling comes — / The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs; /The feet, mechanical, go round." Powerful for a 13-line poem; potentially dreary for a 300-page novel. Prose surmounts this challenge with the mercurial voice of her narrator, a woman named Nico looking back at the summer when she was a precocious 13-year-old. Caught in that fluid, contradictory period of naivete and sexual awakening, self-absorption and insight, Nico is such a dynamic, unsettled character that she compels us through a story that could have been grim and static. "Goldengrove" takes place in Emersonville, a bucolic town in upstate New York that's seen an influx of well-heeled Manhattan families fleeing anxieties stirred up by 9/11. Beyond the reach of cell phones or high-speed Internet, they live "in a time-warp bubble." Nico's mother is a musician, and her father runs the Goldengrove bookstore. (The store's name and Margaret's come from a mournful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins.) They're hip, laid-back parents: "They often talked as if all four of us were involved in some group child-raising project," Nico tells us. Her older sister, Margaret, is gorgeous and sophisticated, a talented singer looking forward to attending Oberlin in the fall on a full scholarship. In the opening chapter, she and Nico are lying in their rowboat on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Margaret sings a sultry version of "My Funny Valentine" and then dives into the water. She's never seen alive again. What follows is the story of how this loving family copes — or fails to cope — with their loss. Nico's parents know the importance of helping her through this horrendous period, but they're caught off guard by the force of their sorrow. They vacillate between ignoring her entirely and obsessing about their "Only Remaining Child." The house grows quiet. "Margaret's death had shaken us," Nico says, "like three dice in a cup, and spilled us out with new faces in unrecognizable combinations. We forgot how we used to live in our house, how we'd passed the time when we lived there." Her mother slowly descends into a narcotic haze, "drifting in and out, like a radio station on the edge of its broadcast range." There are, in fact, allusions to the apocalypse tucked all over this novel, a stark reminder of the calamities that extend far beyond a single family's despair. While her father works on his history of eschatology, a promising young artist in town paints visions of the Rapture, the town of Emersonville confronts the ecological collapse of its lake, and Nico worries about irreversible global warming. Prose is most astute with her portrayal of the stormy currents of adolescent grief. "For a second, I'd feel normal," Nico says. "Then came the dim awareness of something off, out of place. Then the truth came crashing in, and that was it for the rest of the day." One minute, she sympathizes with her parents, the next she's furious at them for loving Margaret more than her. Increasingly despondent, she nevertheless retains enough wit to skewer the "useless advice" offered up by friends and strangers. In these moments Prose loosens the leash on her wit with some withering comments about self-serving truisms, peppy cliches and even vague allusions to the afterlife. "Goldengrove" portrays the experience of grief with deep sympathy, but what's surprising 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." Five years ago, Prose published "After," a subversive book for young adults about a high school that overreacts with deadly intensity to a shooting at a nearby school. "Goldengrove" speaks to an older, more sophisticated audience, and the publisher gives no hint that it might have YA appeal, but teachers trying to update their curriculum should take a look. It presents an opportunity to introduce students to a major contemporary writer and finally move beyond Judith Guest's rather formulaic "Ordinary People." Nico's voice, with its quirky mix of insight and gullibility, will stick in adults' minds, and many younger readers will recognize that voice as their own. Ron Charles, a senior editor of The Washington Post Book World, can be reached at charlesr(at symbol)washpost.com. Reviewed by Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Marshaling magnetic characters, hidden history, suspense, and acute insight into the transmutation of anguish into compassion, Prose plunges through the scrim of melodrama to reach the realm of myth, in a ravishing novel of the mystery of death and life's assertion." Booklist (Starred Review)
"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..." Kirkus Reviews
"[T]his 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." Library Journal
The New York Times-bestselling author of Reading Like a Writer returns with an emotionally powerful novel about love and loss filled with echoes of the classics Vertigo and Pygmalion.
Goldengrove is an emotionally powerful novel about adolescent love and loss from Francine Prose, the New York Times bestselling author of Reading Like a Writer and A Changed Man. Focusing on a young girl facing the consequences of sudden loss after the death of her sister, this masterful coming-of-age work is radiant with the possibility of summer and charged by the restless sexual tension of teenage life.
About the Author
Francine Prose is the author of fifteen books of fiction, including A Changed Man and Blue Angel, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and the nonfiction New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. She is the president of PEN American Center. She lives in New York City.
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