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Goldengrove: A Novel [Paperback]

Francine Prose
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Aug. 31 2009
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.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

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

Review

“With perfect pitch and no trace of sentimentality, Prose . . . lands on the precise emotional key for this novel . . . allowing humor and compassion to seep through the cracks of an otherwise dark tale.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Ms. Prose is perceptive. . . . Her modest-sounding book turns out to be beautifully wrought.... and yields an unexpectedly rich, tart, eye-opening sense of Nico’s world.” (New York Times)

“With a dazzling mix of directness and metaphor, Prose captures the centrifugal and isolating force of grief...Prose exquisitely renders her characters’ grief and bafflement.” (Los Angeles Times)

“Arguably, “Goldengrove” is her best book yet.” (Seattle Times)

“Prose locates the life force that gives her narrator the quirky, irreverent but undeniable sound of a survivor. . . . Prose is tremendously skilled.” (Chicago Tribune)

“Francine Prose’s new novel is a quiet, clear-eyed, sun-dappled eulogy to lost youth, and a youth lost. . . . [Prose is ] a keen chronicler of human emotion.” (Elle)

“A page-turner, thanks to its wholly identifiable, and perfectly flawed, young heroine. A-” (Entertainment Weekly)

“A beautiful narrative that defines resilience as the sometimes heartbreaking act of simply living” (Redbook Magazine)

“A poignant account of growing up amid sorrow...a tender and moving story of adolescent love.” (Hartford Courant)

“Prose holds up a mirror to grief and family life we can’t look away from, revealing their truths on page after page, in beautifully crafted writing.” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

“Prose’s skillful rendering of the human ability to accept hard truths and move on is a poignant lesson for us all.” (Miami Herald)

“Insightful, lyrical... “Goldengrove” is beautifully and simply written...a moving portrait of the search for identity through a landscape of pain and loss.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

“Beautifully crafted...perhaps her most emotionally satisfying novel.” (Christian Science Monitor)

“An exploration of the fragility of adolescent identity and the perilous undertow of grief” (O magazine)

“Prose creates characters with real flaws that make the reader both love and hate them. It is easy to put oneself in the position of any of the players...” (Deseret Morning News)

“Deeply touching and absorbing...” (Publishers Weekly)

“...emotionally authentic...a ravishing novel of the mystery of death and life’s assertion.” (Booklist (starred review))

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "It is Margaret you mourn for" Nov. 15 2008
By Walter Hypes TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
In this delicate study of remembrance and loss, author Francine Prose seems to be offering an antidote for grief. Goldengove begins with an accident, but its almost as if there is no explanation for why Margaret, the stunningly beautiful older sister of Nico suddenly drowns one afternoon while swimming home in the glassy and motionless Mirror Lake in Upstate New York. Indeed, the accident seems to simply occur, like a domino falling and collapsing, as almost over-night, Nico and her parents Henry and Daisy are thrust into a maelstrom of denial and grief that shatters their previously calm and transparent lives. Even as the search for Margaret`s body continues, with the divers dragging the lake, working day and night, Henry and Daisy hold Nico's hands with a steady pressure: half comfort and half restraint. Indeed, Margaret leaves behind a formidable reputation. The go-to and "it girl" and adored by those around her, Margaret was even rumored to be having sex with her handsome new boyfriend Aaron. A budding poet who also wanted to be a singer (her singing was always pure sex) Margaret was also a natural romantic and a lover of everything old - films, jazz songs, vintage postcards and clothes. She was also of the opinion that she was born too late.

Thinking back their early days with Margaret, Nico, Henry and Daisy are at a loss to deal with the state of her death. Once the idol of Nico's life, Margaret and her fit together so perfectly that Nico never anticipated such an abrupt estrangement. Each family member handles her absence differently: Henry seeks comfort in Goldengove his bookstore, spending his evenings and Sundays working on a book about how people in different cultures and eras imagine the end of the world.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  86 reviews
50 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite Prose Sept. 16 2008
By Janet Boyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
"When I said I didn't want to go out, they sounded a little annoyed, as if I was acting princessy and spoiled. Why didn't I appreciate the good deed they were doing? They seemed relieved when I said no and they could hang up before I changed my mind or started crying. Naturally, they sounded strange. They weren't talking to the same person. I was no longer Nico. I was the dead girl's sister." -- From Goldengrove

Choosing this book to review from the Amazon Vine Program was an utter gamble on my part, for I never heard of Francine Prose and wasn't sure if I was up to a book on grief (especially having lost my first husband to leukemia).

What I discovered while reading Goldengrove was an author who had the extraordinary ability to paint subtle word pictures that animates sunlight, dust, song, shirt, fireworks, ice cream, pond scum and other surroundings normally overlooked on a given day. But arguably author Francine Prose's best gift, at least in this book, is offering an unflinching, accurate portrayal of the way individuals differ in handling grief.

I won't provide you plot details, for others have done so and I don't want to spoil your experience.

What I wish I could communicate (but words are failing me) is the uncanny ability the author has for getting under your skin--making you sympathize and squirm, exult and panic--by writing a book that appears to have a straightforward plot: a girl drowns, and her family and the dead girl's boyfriend attempt to deal with it.

While Goldengrove may sound like a depressing book, it's not. Sobering, yes...it catapulted me into a very contemplative mood for a day ("Gothic" my husband remarked). But death is a part of life, and how individuals deal with grief is as varied as the people on the planet (although the five stages simmer somewhere amongst the grief stew--denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance).

Francine Prose's writing is pure poetry. I marveled at it--pondered it. I read passages to my husband. One part, where she described why her sister had a buggy startled look in her school portrait, had me laughing so hard that my stomach hurt. I tried to read it to my husband, but everytime I started, I lost it. After the fifth time, I just handed the book to him so he could read it for himself...

There are too many gorgeous passages to highlight in this review, but here's a small sampling of Prose's writing style:

"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 ordering 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."

If you're looking for a feel-good novel or a beach read, this is not for you. No, Goldengrove is work to be enjoyed by those who appreciate nuance, the art of words, and the vagaries of human experience portrayed with sheer artistry.

I am glad I chose to read Goldengrove. It was time well spent. It reminded me to treasure every fleeting moment, take nothing for granted, and be grateful for the living around me.

I'm also glad to discover Francine Prose, and will be putting her books--fiction and non-fiction--on my Amazon WishList.

For the discerning, Goldengrove is a novel well-worth the time spent in its presence.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, But Misses the Mark Sept. 29 2008
By B. Case - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Francine Prose's latest novel, "Goldengrove," is a subtle, quiet, reflective novel about a family's journey through overwhelming grief after the sudden death of the eldest daughter. The novel takes place over the course of one terrible summer. The action focuses on Nico, the surviving daughter, as she battles with grief, depression, and loss of identity...all at the same time that her body is awakening to its own budding sexuality. Nico is an awkward 13-year old, unsure of who she is, and how her life may unfold. Her identity has always been entwined tightly with that of her three-years-older, beautiful, and talented sister, Margaret. The novel builds suspense as we watch Nico's drift dangerously toward an inappropriate relationship with Aaron, her dead sister's boyfriend. Originally the two come together to help each other deal with their grief, but the relationship turns strange, disturbing, and unhealthy. Many times, I found myself unable to put the book down fearing that Nico was drifting into harm's way.

I've enjoyed a number of Francine Prose's novels. A year ago, I reviewed her nonfiction work, "Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them" and I gave that book a strong five-star Amazon rating. Prose is an accomplished writer--I can count on her to deliver a finely crafted work of literary fiction. That said, I was definitely disappointed with this work. Don't get me wrong: I did enjoy it...but, for me, it only earned a three-star rating. I felt strongly that something was missing, and it took me a while to figure it out.

I've waited for over a week to write this review, I needed to sort out where this book failed me. The writing was excellent; the characterizations, extraordinary--in fact, I can still conjure up vivid images of the main character, Nico, her mother, father, sister, and a host of other lesser characters. Prose made these people real in my mind, and that is no small accomplishment. The story is not complex--it is realistic in the extreme, almost pedestrian. That's okay, too. I'm one of those readers who actually yearn for novels with outstanding characterization and slim realistic plots. So what was it that failed me here with this lovely, subtle coming-of-age book about grief and identity? In the end, it was the lack of any deeper meaning--the lack of overarching revealing themes about the truth of the human condition. The authors tells the story well, but leaves it up to her readers to derive whatever meaning they may discover within the story. In a work of popular fiction, that's okay, but in a work of literary fiction, I expected the author to take greater risks delivering, from within the body of the story, sparkling intellectual depth and insight about human nature.

Perhaps my disappointment was exaggerated because I read another books recently with a strikingly similar storyline about a young girl dealing with grief, sexual awakening, and inappropriate relationships--one that left a far stronger impression on me, and was in many ways in my estimation, a better book. That novel was "The God of Animals: A Novel" by Aryn Kyle--a debut novel that won a solid four-star rating from me. The author's overarching themes about the reality of the human condition at the end of this novel seared their way into my heart and soul--I found my eyes brimming with tears because of the honesty and clarity of the vision...and I am one not easily moved by sentiment. I suppose I expected something like this from Prose's book and was deeply disappointed when it was not there.

Of special note, Prose does an outstanding job of recreating the progression into and out of psychological depression. But again, for me, the author misses the mark: she gets the description right, but fails to reveal any insight--there are no stunning interior revelations.

Although I enjoyed "Goldengrove," I do not recommend it: there are better books being published that deserve your time. But I'll still keep an eye out for Francine Prose's next novel, and when it appears, I will probably fall in line to buy it and read it.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It Is Margaret You Mourn For" Sept. 6 2008
By Susan K. Schoonover - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I almost entitled this review with the quote from the book "hopeless love triangle with the dead" and though that does describe a major theme there is much more to the story than that. The book is set in present day upstate New York and the narrator of the book is Nico who is apparently writing from the future as she describes the summer she was thirteen and her beloved sister Margaret drowned due to an undetected heart ailment shortly before her high school graduation. Margaret was a "star" in their small town, a beautiful girl and talented singer with her own unique style. Nico, at the time of the tragedy, was a bookish and chubby thirteen, curiously watching and wondering about her glamorous sister's relationship with Aaron, a budding artist, who is disapproved of by her parents probably because of some bipolar tendencies that are shown as the book progresses. After Margaret's death Aaron took an interest in transforming Nico into a replica of her sister and I am very grateful the author did not take that relationship any farther than she did.

GOLDENGROVE is an exquisitely written, insightful, short novel with many well drawn and sympathetic characters including Nico and Margaret's aging hippie parents, Elaine a single mom of a handicapped child and her son Tycho a quite realistically drawn person with autism. Prose references many things from history and pop culture such as the 19th century cult the Millerites, the 60's pop singer Nico, and Hitchcock's movie VERTIGO all of which sent me scrambling to the internet to find out more about them. This is a good choice for both adults and teens who want a story with strong and ultimately life affirming themes.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Living in the shadows Sept. 2 2008
By R. DelParto - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Francine Prose writes with poignancy with her book, GOLDENGROVE: A NOVEL. It is a story that centers on loss and love by the main character, Nico, who at the age of thirteen, learns to mature quickly as a result of the death of her sister, Margaret. Readers will see how Nico lives in the shadow of her big sister, and Margaret's death is a constant reminder for Nico to determine her own identity.

Although the book moves slowly in the beginning, with each chapter, one will become enticed with Nico's growth as a young woman as she experiences several encounters with Margaret's boyfriend, Aaron, who appears to have Nico wrapped around his finger. Indeed, it is these passages in the book where the reader may resist putting the book down. But Nico also observes the somewhat strained relationship between her parents, and her father's indiscretion with a colleague, Elaine, who works at the family bookstore. It is these observations that help Nico to grow-up quickly.

GOLDENGROVE may be destined to be a classic on several bookshelves because of its timeless quality. The novel is intriguing, and will probably be read over and over.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lacking - 2.4 Feb. 21 2009
By Biblibio - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I see that most/all the 2 star reviews are getting super blasted. Still, sticking with my gut and my code of honor, I'm going out against "Goldengrove". Give me a few minutes of your time and I'll explain why.

"Goldengrove" is the kind of book that I can see many picking up eagerly. It makes sense. The subject matter is dark, mournful, and intriguing - dangerous boys and death. What could be better for some readers? Well, premise is fine and all, but a book needs to live up to it. And "Goldengrove" simply does not. While tastily written (in that Prose's prose is elegant, swift, and descriptive), the plot (surprisingly reminiscent to teen counterpart "Saving Zoe", minus the murder) is bland. Almost all the characters sound the same. Another reviewer blasts the "fantasy" in that the teens like old movies. That part is fine. It's the unconvincing tone of 13-year old Nico that disappoints (even I didn't speak like that then). It's the way every character sounds the same, how no character other than Nico ever gets even slightly fleshed out.

"Goldengrove"'s premise rang false with me too. This is the umpteenth book with this premise I've read, where the glamorous beloved older sister dies and the simpler younger one deals by trying to live her sister's life. The teen (+murder) version of "Goldengrove" is "Saving Zoe" by Alison Noel. And while that book too had its flaws, it at least felt vaguely real to me. "Goldengrove" felt overdramatized, with that gasping incompleteness at the end. It didn't touch me emotionally (as one would expect) and it simply failed to convince. The one thing it had going for it was the clear, lucid writing. Beautiful, yes. Meaningless? Yes.

Ultimately, "Goldengrove" is lacking in a number of regions. It's not a horrible book, it was not painful to read. All it was was a bland, repetitive, cliched novel that felt like an adult trying to sound like a teen (and failing). Yes, moments were "poignant" and had "clarity", but on the whole, it failed to live up to expectations. Yes, it's a beautifully written novel and yes, the idea might have been nice (once upon a time when it wasn't amazingly old), but combined with an unrealistic main character and bland writing, it comes off wrong.

Some readers may enjoy the quiet emptiness to "Goldengrove", especially if they don't mind Nico's unrealistic voice. And yes, Prose's writing is lovely. But this book is not recommendable.
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